When it comes to mental illness, video games often get a bad rap. There is a ton of talk in the media about how video games cause violent behavior (it’s not that simple) and how video game addiction is a real thing (it is, but not as big of a problem as some may lead you to believe).
Don’t get me wrong – video games can be very bad for your mental health, particularly if you overdo it and become withdrawn, ignore your real life obligations or substitute games for real world interaction. That being said, there is also ample evidence which demonstrates that video games can be really good for depression.
This Geek & Sundry article lays the case out nicely. It notes that different games can have different, positive purposes (MMORPGs can help people become more social, puzzles can help reduce outside distractions and deal with trauma, etc).
Additional useful information is in this Slate article, which discusses what happens to someone’s brain when they play video games:
In the past few years, multiple fMRI studies, including a seminal one conducted at Stanford University, have peered into the brains of gamers. Their results show that when we play video games, two regions of the brain are continually hyperstimulated: the region most associated with motivation and goal-orientation (often referred to as “the reward pathways”) and the region most associated with learning and memory (the hippocampus).
BUT, the article also notes:
In other words: Video game play is literally the neurological opposite of depression.
The key, according to this article, is to “play games with a purpose” – in other words, a positive goal. Doing so will alter your brain and encourage you to see the world in a whole new light. This, in turn, help rewire your brain so that you can better cope with depression.
There is also ample evidence that video games can help you fight depression. One 2018 study found that action games can help reduce depression. And a 2012 study found that a fantasy game designed specifically to fight depression could be more effective than visiting a counselor.
And all of this, of course, says nothing about the very positive ways which certain games show depression – and show people fighting back. And, after all, I’m a big fan of using media to show how to conquer depression!
On a personal level? I’ve found video games to be a very pleasant distraction at the moments where I am down. They can, however briefly, take me away from my troubles and give my brain space to breathe and recover. I get the temptation to drown yourself in a video game when you are down, but the truth is that this accomplishes nothing. If you use video games as a way to reorient yourself to the real world, it can help get you to where you need to be. Maybe that’s why I tend to like open world games that provide a big escape – games like Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto 5…err, I mean, Mario Kart. Let’s go with that.
As always, I welcome your thoughts below. Have these experiences been yours? What video games do you play when you are down? Let us know in the comments!