Gaming Therapy: Video Games’ Role in Treating Mental Health Issues

Video games have been plagued for years with accusations of causing addiction, violence, and social issues. Despite lack of evidence, a negative stigma has always surrounded video games and mental health. However, new testimonies have come out to help combat this negative climate. Recent studies of video games and mental health disorders have shown that gaming can actually help alleviate disorders like anxiety, depression, and help to modify harmful behavior.

At this point in the year, with final exams and projects piling up, long hours at work dragging you down, and the stress of it all is just building up … I would give anything to go home and jump on my PlayStation. Sometimes, when I get overwhelmed, I just need put my phone down and pick up my controller. I know what you’re thinking – video games can get your heart racing, make your patience run thin, and keep you wide awake until the crack of dawn — so how is that my idea of relaxation?

I may sounds crazy (and I kinda am) but I’m not alone. As it turns out, people around the world turn to video games as a way to relieve stress, spanning anywhere from casual means of relaxation, to usage as a form of clinical treatment. Why is it then, that these digital worlds can have such a powerful impact on our real ones? According to Dr. Kelly, a clinical psychologist and the head of G33Ks Like Us, people are able to use video games as a “tool” that “they get so much catharsis from, that they have friends on,” he explained in an interview with Variety. “We’ve got something for them to work toward and something that means something to them.”

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In an article published by the BBC, Josh Pappenheim discusses his battle with anxiety and how video games helped him with his struggles. Josh struggled from debilitating anxiety his entire life, to the point he had trouble leaving the house or socializing. However, Josh finally found solace and relief through gaming. “I found myself forgetting about everything else,” he explains. “Working through the problems the game threw at me, I realized that, for the first time in a long time, I was approaching something from a positive, solvable perspective.”

Although there are word-of-mouth testimonies like Josh’s, the medical community has evidence to support these claims. A study by Eastern Carolina University showed a 57% decrease in depression symptoms among participants. Additionally, there was a 20% reduction in anxiety and a 65% mood improvement on average. New research is continuously being conducted to understand the relationship between playing video games and a person’s mental health conditions.

Personally, I find video games to be an escape mechanism. I can come home, slide on my headset, grab a controller, and just become immersed in another world. When I’m fighting a Rathalos in Monster Hunter World, I’m not thinking about the homework I have due or the fight I had with my friend when I’m going through a dungeon in Final Fantasy XIV. Video games have this glorious kind of way of removing you from life and creating a brief refuge from your problems.

In-game, we can overcome things that may hold us back in real life. I can accomplish tasks, grow, face my fears, and be rewarded for it. If I fail, I can try again. If I die, there’s always another match. If I don’t have money, there’s always a way to earn more.

Monster Hunter

If you think about it, so many mental health issues can be improved through gaming. People with social issues can be introduced to focused, low-stakes opportunities to socialize. Someone suffering from depression might find relief in the fact that they can feel empowered and can find a fun yet distracting escape mechanism. There are so many possibilities that are yet to be explored.

As someone with anxiety, video games take the question out of, “What will I do next?” All I have to do is follow exactly what the game tells me to do, and I will succeed. I don’t have to plan or have things figured out, and that’s the beautiful thing about them — no strict responsibility or “figuring it out.” Really, video games expect nothing of you other than to have fun … and how many other things in life can you say the same thing about?

Written by
Your local aficionado of all things Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts, and a budding Monster Hunter enthusiast. Aspiring to work in PR & communications in the gaming industry. Besides that, I play my PlayStation, love my cat, and work in esports. Pretty much it. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram.

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