Deep Thoughts

How Video Games Can Support Mental Wellbeing And Build Life Skills

I’ve been a semi- consistent gamer since I was a young kid.

I’ve spent countless hours of my youth playing everything from Final Fantasy to Resident Evil.

Like most people, I’ve always been told that games are addictive and a waste of time, they will hinder your development and make you socially awkward etc.

But, is this true?

In some periods of my life, I might have agreed with some of those statements as I fell out of love with the joy of playing video games.

Working for a games company when all you do is play the same beta level of a title for 60+ hours a week will do that to you.

Time is a very valuable resource that has become harder to hold onto due to the commitments of being an adult.

However, I was reintroduced to the world of video games once more via a shiny new PlayStation 4 which arrived in my house courtesy of my lovely partner a few years back..

Now at first, we were both confused as to why this device was in our home as neither of us had played on any form of console for a very long time.

It was one of the first occasions that I truly felt my age as I looked at the device in confusion as to how to even turn it on – my younger self would have been disgusted with me.

One we got through what turned out to be a quite simple method of setting up our new PlayStation 4, we started to revisit some of the games from our past and newer titles too.

One thing that immediately struck me upon playing a few new versions of games from my youth is that they were much harder to play than I remember.

This wasn’t related to the user experience but in the fact that I had to think a lot more about my movements or strategies in the virtual world than I expected.

Building skills in a digital world

This got me thinking about all the games and the time I spent playing those games as a youngster and what I took away from those interactions.

I recall spending days on end playing espionage and strategy games and having to thoroughly plan out what my moves would be and how I could execute my ideas.

They weren’t merely point and click situations, but required real thought, creativity and planning into how I would accomplish a mission or reach a checkpoint.

I also remember how this would spill into my real life.

I compared some of the challenges I faced during those times to the methods I would use in the virtual world e.g. can I apply the methods of planning and strategy to my real life problems.

I started to see a return on this way of thinking. I was able to face a number of my challenges with a mindset where I felt confident and knew that if I could create a blueprint to tackle the challenge before me, then I would be getting somewhere. A lot of this mind shift came from the tasks I faced within video games.

You’re set a variety of challenges and you can’t just shoot your way through all situations, you have to take a step back, analyse and plan your approach carefully.

For me this was the early form of what we would now call digital or online learning, it’s just that we didn’t know it back then.

Back to 2018

Fast forwarding back to the current time at write this and I’ve found myself becoming immersed in a number of games on the odd weekend.

I feel they really challenge me on a number of levels and help me calm my mind from the daily grind. This got me thinking around how video games could benefit and support people with their mental health, especially with building skills such as confidence and self belief.

As someone who has struggled with and works a lot on managing their own mental health, I find that the outlet of video games does enable me to challenge my everyday perceptions in a safe environment.

When I feel a little vulnerable, they allow me to take some of that confidence into real world situations.

Some people will say that video games are an escape from life and that might be true, but is this such a bad thing? Life can suck sometimes and we could all do with a little break.

If using video games could help build self belief and confidence by achieving objectives in a virtual domain, why can’t we transfer these learnings into the real world to face our real life challenges? – surely this is a wonderful output.

Let’s look at the positives

I’ve read a number of stories in research for this article.

To my surprise, a variety of people have attributed video games in helping to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, support in forming social bonds and in understanding why sometimes your first course of action isn’t always the best course of action.

I feel it would be interesting to see if video games can and do support mental well-being among their audiences.

I’m aware of a number of studies being conducted in the USA, but it would be good to see this conversation and research broadcast on a wider level.

Historically, video games have been given a bad reputation in certain communities and blamed for a variety of events. A quick google search will usually bring provocative click-bait headlines proclaiming games are killing us.

Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There is good and bad in everything in our world of course, but I feel we focus on the negative too much.

From a personal point of view, I’ve always felt video games have played some part in developing my character and way of thinking.

Even today, when I play a game with my partner and have to figure out how to master a new skill on something like guitar hero, I’m being challenged, I need to engage my mind to the problem at hand and once I’ve accomplished it, the feeling is euphoric.

A shared experience

The world has an estimated 2.7 billion gamers.

That’s approximately 34% of today’s recorded 8 billion humans. So, this grants the potential to reach society at scale.

The team at VeryWell Mind have said that video games could hold untapped potential in treatment of mental illness. They break down a report from Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software to understand the benefits that games can foster.

The research team evaluates games including ‘Minecraft’ and ‘Animal Crossing’.

Their overarching research found that video games could help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression and reduce loneliness through social connectedness that is often fostered through gaming communities.

Professor of Emerging Technology at Miami University in Ohio, Glenn Platt shared that “Video games provide connection, a critical aspect of mental health, feeling like you are part of a community of like-minded people who value your participation and share your goal within the game”.

Even more recent research has discovered that video games have the potential to boost intelligence in children.

So, the traditional narrative of video games making our children dumb and being a complete waste of our adult time are slowly being disproved. Yet, this doesn’t mean that video games are totally angelic. Everything must be viewed in context.

You can most certainly have a toxic and addictive relationship with video games, like anything in life.

But don’t games damage our mental health?

According to research, no.

In early 2022, the University of Oxford published research countering the often popularised fears of gaming being harmful to our mental health. Through tracking gameplay baits of almost 40,000 gamers, the research team discovered:

  • Increase of healthier intrinsic motivations
  • No evidence that emotional states or life satisfaction are affected
  • No strong link between gameplay and poor wellbeing in research conditions. Of course, many variables to this.

So, I ask you to think about how can other forms of media, like video games support in our overall mental health and skills development – you might be surprised.

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