How does gaming benefit our mental health?

Sometimes gaming is the only way I can cope with anxiety. Even with all my new ideas on self-care, gaming is still my ride or die.

How can gaming positively impact our mental, social and emotional health? And what’s with all the bad press surrounding gaming?

One thing that I possibly advertise much is my love affair with the gaming world. That and my dark hankering for true crime. While I’m not playing hit games like Call of Duty or Halo, I do enjoy my fair share of JRPG’s, simulations, and the occasional platformer. Some of my fondest memories are spending time with my best friend or cousin playing Crash Bandicoot on the Playstation One. There were many rainy summers spent in my Grandmother’s living room, four or more crowded around the TV, each begging for their turn on the controller. Those really were better days.

My love of gaming hasn’t changed much. Even in my late twenties, I’m still excited for the next installment of Pokemon or Animal Crossing. I can’t tell you how many hours have been ‘lost‘ on The Sims while I create hundreds of complicated character arches. It’s how I decompress and sometimes gaming is the only way I can silence my persistent anxiety. Even with all my new ideas on self-care, gaming is still my ride or die to the bitter end.

But if gaming can be so beneficial to our mental health, why does it get such a bad rap?

I don’t want to start into a discussion about the benefits of gaming without also addressing the concerns. While I appreciate and agree that games should be regulated using an age rating, I don’t feel that video games fully deserve the backlash they often receive.

One of the most recent statements on gaming comes from comedian, Joe Rogan. He used his platform to inform us of the unproductive nature of video games, using his own experience as an example. Rogan was particularly concerned about the influence that gaming has on children and the productivity of life. He was met with backlash in the comments stating that life isn’t all about being productive all and that gaming was a justified use of time, some even arguing self-care.

I personally have to agree with the majority of the commentators on this one. Gaming has been essential to my self-care routine. While being productive is great, you don’t have to spend every waking moment of your life trying to reach the next big thing. That’s how burnout starts, with the inability to slow down. Would the same be said about reading a book? Quite often I’ve found myself lost for hours in the pages of a murder mystery which inevitably means that the laundry hasn’t been put away. Would that also be considered unproductive of me despite the fact I’m decompressing while also stimulating my mind?

But of course, we can’t mention the ‘negative’ influence of gaming without discussing violence.

President Donald Trump used video games as a scapegoat in 2018, stating that they encourage mass violence and shootings. This opinion has been circulating since the early nineties and that’s exactly where it should stay. Although there are plenty of violent and gory games to point the finger at, there is still no hard, scientific evidence to back up this claim.

Former editor of The New York Times, Philip M.Boffey had the following to say on the matter.

“Focusing on violent video games as the cause of mass shootings almost certainly distracts legislators and government officials from the pressing need to deal with more fundamental causes. It is a moral imperative for federal and state legislators, government officials, and all others concerned with lethal violence to confront the underlying problems and not take symbolic refuge in blaming violent video games.

How do video games impact young people? Are they a safe hobby for them to have? Find out more here.


Can gaming be a positive influence?

As a longtime gamer, I’m obviously going to hold a biased opinion in regards to the benefits of video games. But don’t take my word for it! A recent study of 2,003 people carried out by Lockwood Publishing, found that gaming has been essential to many for maintaining positive mental health throughout COVID-19 lockdown.

The study found that 40% of people experienced negative mental health impacts during the course of lockdown. Non-gamers were found to be the worst affected, with approximately one third (29%) reporting an increase in symptoms of anxiety and isolation.  However, two thirds (66%) of gamers interviewed felt that video games had a positive part to play in keeping them relatively sane throughout the whole ordeal. Not only that, but they feel that gaming has been a positive influence on their mental health throughout their lives.

**Lockwood Publishing is responsible for the popular mobile game, Avakin Life. Find out more about the study here.


Top 5 Mental Benefits of Video Games.

Creates social connection.

COVID-19 has created many changes, one of which is a distinct drop in our social lives. Despite our usual coffee dates being put off, during lockdown, I was able to hang out with both my partner and best friend using the wonders of multiplayer. We even got involved in a few virtual quiz nights and Mario Cart tournaments! Most video games come with the option of multiplayer, with some even being cross-platform. Provided you have a reliable Wi-Fi connection, you can find hours of fun on games such as Animal Crossing, World of Warcraft, and, of course, Minecraft.

None of your mates playing video games? No worries! There are plenty of safe communities where you can meet like-minded players. One great place to check out is Gameress, a gaming community specifically for women, or those who identify as such.

To read more about staying social while social distancing, check out this post!
Improves our ability to solve problems.

Many video games come with multiple puzzles and challenges. Whether you’re going solo or you’re attending a raid in WOW, there are always obstacles to overcome that require brainpower. This means each player is required to think clearly, quickly and deliberately depending on the goal. But some games can be more challenging than others and may require the player to go the extra mile.

Instead of shying away from problems we can’t solve, which is sometimes the default human response, we’re taught to persist and resolve. These skills are essential for not only video games but everyday life.

Helps to reduce stress.

While there are many games that can help induce stress, there are also those with the opposite effect. As discussed in my Animal Crossing post, many players found that playing it helped reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. The same can be said for various other games in different genres, not just slow-paced simulations.

Want to know more about how gaming can help manage stress and anxiety? Check out this post!

Can slow down the mental ageing process.

According to a study at the University of Iowa, there’s evidence to suggest that video games can slow down the mental effects of aging. The study saw participants given either a digital crossword to a video game called Road Tour. Visual distractions mimicked the challenges that older people face while driving, and as the game progressed so did the visuals. This continued over the course of five to eight weeks.

Six hundred and eighty-one people over the age of fifty were involved. The study found that playing Road Tour for ten hours helped to slow cognitive decline caused by aging.

Reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.

As if I haven’t mentioned this enough already, but video games are GREAT for helping manage anxiety. There are various studies showing that video games can boost mood and improve heart health, therefore relieving anxiety.

On a more personal note, video games have been therefore me in some of my darkest hours. I remember being in the hospital or waiting at therapy and my Nintendo was all I had to keep me calm. I still feel a sense of relief in knowing that I have something I can easily escape to when I need it most.


But don’t take my word for it!

I asked you guys what you thought on Twitter. Here’s just a handful of the responses I received.

Connecting Cait had this to say.

“Video games have always been a bit like books in that they act as another form of escapism. My favourite type of games to get lost in are good storytelling games, such as Detroit Become Human, L.A Noire or Silent Hill. Anything that allows you to get immersed in the storyline and forget about your own troubles is such a great source of comfort. I also find that little mobile games have been really beneficial in reducing anxiety and providing a distraction. Those that require your full attention are great for this, a silly example but flappy bird was a game where you couldn’t think about anything else but the task at hand. When the game is on the brain can turn off for a while!”

Jenny In Neverland added her two pence.

“Video games are sometimes the only way I can get out of my own head for a while. Getting immersed completely within another world is amazing but what really does it for me with video games is the character aspect. Acting as that character in the video game helps me massively to switch off and focus on someone else’s – albeit made-up – problems for a change, rather than my own. Films and books are great but for the immersion factor, nothing beats a video game for me”.

Vee has similar tastes to my own.

Animal crossing and the Sims helps me escape from the every day struggles. I love reality games because controlling something virtually helps me escape a world I have no control over. In games I can tell a character to walk that way, to eat, to work. In the real world I can’t tell anyone what to do. I can’t control the bad things going on in the world. Having even a tiny bit of control of something makes a big difference to my mental health.

Jasmine added this.

“I’m a huge fan of playing games because they relax me. I’ve a few games that I play on my phone daily that help me clear my mind. However, my actual favorite video game that I’ve been playing for years is The Sims (Sims 4). It helps me out mentally a lot because it does give me a creative outlet and it’s something calming for me to get lost in. I honestly think I like it so much because it gives me some sort of control which a lot of things in life I may not necessarily have control over.”


What’s your take on mental health and video games? Are you an avid gamer or more on the fence?

45 comments

  1. Hi Nyxie,

    As somebody else who has been gaming for a while (I also played Crash on the PS1 and even played before that on a Commodore 64!!) I wholeheartedly agree with you concerning the mental health benefits of gaming.

    Also, I don’t really understand the ‘playing violent games causes violent behaviour’ argument. OK, some people who played them have turned violent, but most haven’t. You might as well say that most violence is committed by people who have driven red cars, therefore red cars should be banned! šŸ˜‰

  2. Not only can gaming help our mental health-when you use it properly- but it can help with handwriting too! I know that because when I was little, and in OT, I had to play video games as part of my treatment.

  3. I super agree with this, my husband and I playing games after work and it really helps us to be relax, aside from that playing games together makes our relationship even stronger.

  4. This post is really informative. Though Iā€™m not a gamer. I can see the benefits of playing games.

  5. This is an interesting read, I used to game more than I do now as my eyes can’t cope with it anymore. My other half games a lot infact he is as I type this and find it a good way to release stress.

  6. I am not much of a gamer, just not my thing but I do try to understand things more from my husband’s and daughter’s view and you definitely make great points. My daughter dealt with terrible bullying this past Spring and we had to remove her from school. She discovered online gaming and fell in love with it. Yes, it drives me crazy as a mom that she’s constantly gaming BUT I have realized, it’s also an outlet for her. She’s special needs, she struggles with anxiety and depression, she’s also stuck at home thanks to COVID and I realized this is helping her connect to others, become social, it gives her what she needs even if I can’t always understand it. My husband is the same. Gaming is how he relaxes from work and just “chills”. I’m learning more and your post definitely points things out.

  7. This was such an interesting read. I hadn’t thought of gaming in terms of what my daughter does (School of Dragons, Minecraft, etc) but of course that’s gaming too. She loves it and gets really creative with her worlds. Glad to know that it’s good for her (in small doses!) šŸ™‚

  8. I can’t cope with violent video games. They give me major anxiety. I much prefer the co-op, chilled games that I play with my mates.

  9. I honestly have to suggest something like Animal Crossing or even Stardew Valley for anyone who might be feeling depressed or anxious. They are the perfect, zone out games for anything like that.

  10. I don’t play games, but my kid does play. Nice to know that gaming can improve the mental health.

  11. I don’t play a lot of games now, but I used to be a gamer during my teenage years. Indeed, gaming has so many benefits especially when it comes to communication and creating new relationships with others. I met so many great friends through gaming through online networks.

  12. Thank you for quoting me in this my love! Loved reading everyone else’s answers. I’m really craving just playing games right now. I think the stress of this year is getting too much and I need to switch off.

  13. I do agree that gaming has its definite benefits; I think it’s when people take it to the excess to the degree that it impacts their other life responsbilities that it becomes a problem

  14. I feel that videogames do get a bad rap, when I was younger, I played on The Sims religiously growing up and it was kind of an escape from everything and I always used to look forward to playing it when I came home from school! x

    Lucy | http://www.lucymary.co.uk

  15. I am not a gamer but I do agree with you that it does benefit our mental health. In fact, it is a subject that has inspired me to write a blog post about the importance of having “me-time” among dads as well as among moms.

  16. My teen son is a gamer, a pro gamer to be exact. He’s enjoying it and even earning from it. I don’t see anything wrong with it. For as long as he’s loving what he’s doing, then I’m here to support him.

  17. I spent playing even mobile games to my hard times. It makes me forget problems and keeps me entertained. I agree with these and really informative. I spend a good read at this post and know much more about playing benefits.

  18. I never knew that gaming had a positive effect on mental health. It makes me feel better about spending a few hours on the console now!

  19. My husband loves video games (they tend to just make me frustrated, although I do love The Sims!) I’ll have to share this with him. It was an interesting read!

  20. Gaming is indeed helpful in regards of mental health but if it’s too much, it will be a disadvantage. Thank you for sharing this blog about how gaming can help us.

  21. I can see how they can be a benefit but I think with kids especially they also had the opposite effect making them angry, and short tempered.

  22. I love video games, even though I’m old and not that good at them. I made a lot of online friends playing and find gaming a great way to destress. My kids also play them and enjoy them so much. Like anything, you can overdo them, but I think that video games have a lot of benefits.

  23. I love gaming but haven’t actually played anything in a long time. I play with my kids sometimes though!

  24. It’s so funny to read this, do you know one benefit we saw from when our now teen son was younger? He learned to read by reading instructions for video games. I remember the day, he was super young, and we always sat with him when he played games but on this particular day he READ THE WORDS on the screen. My hubs and I looked at each other and were like “he can read?!” he was not even 3 at this point, perhaps he was even younger than that. We were shocked.

  25. I’m a big fan of “all things in moderation.” I don’t think gaming deserves such a bad rap, but I do think that it shouldn’t be the only thing in a person’s life (I have a couple friends who don’t seem to be able to separate their gaming life from reality, and that’s when I think it’s not healthy).

  26. I can see this! I don’t play a lot of video games, but I do love to read. It helps calm me. I used to play Sims but after having kids, I didn’t have as much time.

  27. I agree! I honestly don’t think my teen would have survived this pandemic without gaming. He and his friends play together and they stay connected.

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