The link between playing video games and its positive effects on mental health isn’t typically understood by most of the population. A consistent narrative in our society states that video games are bad for our self-esteem and mood regulation, but that isn’t the case. Let’s look at where this misunderstanding came from and how gaming can actually be good for you.
Excessive Video Gaming: Good or Bad?
Anything positive can turn into a negative if the behavior or hobby becomes excessive. One of the biggest examples of this is playing casino games. Like video games, casino gaming used to be front-and-center for the massive moral and cultural panic in North America, but most of these fears are unfounded. It’s only through excessive gambling do issues occur.
The media has always had a knack for pointing to the most aggressive and disastrous examples of video game addiction as proof of the innately violent nature of gaming. In the early 2000s, gaming was blamed for several murders, assaults, and suicides, but why?
Blame Society, Not the Screen Time
Danah Boyd, writer of works such as “Data & Society” and “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens,” has devoted her life to understanding why the media makes teens do the things they do. She determined through her research that it was the lack of real-life social opportunities coupled with the demands of school and their parents that decided violence.
“This is the Catch-22 that we’ve trapped today’s youth in,” said Boyd on a New York Times article discussing the Internet and media, “We’ve locked them indoors because we see the physical world as more dangerous than ever before, even though by almost every measure, we live in the safest society to date.”
The demand placed on kids and structured activities causes most children and teenagers to find solace on the Internet and gaming, and adults are no different. Without the ability to sustain real-life relationships, technology addiction can take hold. After all, if the Internet is a person’s only means of communicating with the outside world, why would they stop?
Boyd concluded that humans are addicted to interaction, not technology. Parents who want to raise children into adults who can limit time spent on technology and video games must explore socialization in the real world. Often, the media is used as a scapegoat for wrong-doing.
Wouldn’t That Mean That Technology Still Causes Negative Mental Health?
Children who feel isolated from their peers are more likely to develop antisocial behaviors, not the other way around. An adult doesn’t become consumed with addiction because they were happy and made a few mistakes; they do so because they’re unhappy in the first place.
Video games aren’t evil by nature, and they don’t necessarily cause depression and anxiety. However, any addition, gaming or otherwise, can make a bad situation worse.
How Do Video Games Affect Mental Health and Emotions?
Many gamers started to play video games as an escape from something in real life, but this isn’t unique to gaming. All hobbies are vehicles for happiness beyond the pressures of work, school, and social obligations. A child or adult bullied on social media or in their everyday life can become immersed in gaming to not feel emotional pain.
An fMRI study found that the amygdala, the part of the brain that governs negative emotions, calms down when playing video games. A diminished response from the amygdala can allow an adult to relax, but it also makes it difficult for children to learn from mistakes.
One of the most damaging outcomes excessive addition can produce is Alexithymia, which is the inability to determine one’s inner emotional state. Suppressing one’s emotions is easier than controlling them, and men tend to experience this phenomenon more due to societal pressures.
Anger becomes the only emotion one can feel comfortable expressing when Alexithymia develops, which is a primary reason why gaming is associated with violent behavior, if at all. However, Alexithymia only develops through hours and hours of continuous gaming.
Depression, Anxiety, Low Self-Esteem
The big three mental health issues that affect most Americans are depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Playing video games or buying games in excess isn’t the culprit of these mental health issues. Usually, someone who is experiencing these problems will become withdrawn and engage in hobbies that keep them away from social situations.
Does that mean your children, spouse, or loved one is depressed because they play video games? Absolutely not. That’s like saying that a co-worker who enjoys one drink on a Friday night is an alcoholic. Again, what determines mental illness is excessive behavior.
Sad, not depressed, adults can and should use hobbies to remove themselves from a negative situation for a short period. However, if your loved ones are using video games as a way to cope, they likely have other underlying issues that their doctor must address.
Video Games Can Change the Brain for the Better
Now that we looked at the most disastrous outcomes of severe game addition let’s look at how a hobby (5-10 hours a week) can benefit the brain and enhance mental skills. All the following information was gathered from a blog post by Raises Smart Kid, who sites their sources:
- Improves problem solving and logic
- Humans develop more sophisticated hand-eye coordination, spatial and fine motor skills.
- Planning and resource management is improved.
- Allows children and adults to get better at multitasking.
- Fast decision-making increases.
- Adults can learn accuracy, situational awareness, and strategy.
- Pattern recognition, perseverance, and estimating skills develop.
- Improves memory, convention, mapping, and the ability to recognize visual information.
- Children and adults learn to respond better to challenges, frustrations, and failure.
- Adults can learn to take risks in a controlled environment.
Teamwork skills can also develop if a child prefers to play online with real-life players. As another positive, English video games can help non-English speakers get a firmer grasp on language learning, slang, and mannerisms in a European or North American culture.
Conclusion: Addition is Bad, Not The Video Games
Video games aren’t necessarily the source of mental health problems and can actually be used to develop essential life skills in small doses. Many people enjoy gaming as a recreational activity and receive many positive emotions and mental health effects by playing video games.
It’s unfair to blame mental health issues on one thing. Media in general, from books to music, to movies, has been used as a coping mechanism for children and adults for centuries – this is nothing new. Humans will continue to do this well after we’re dead and gone.
As long as your loved one knows how to deal with their emotions and isn’t using an external source in excess to get away from their problems, gaming is a perfectly healthy pastime.