The world is a stressful place. There are many ways to cope with stress and anxiety: meditation, mindfulness, physical movement or exercise, seeking professional assistance, reading books….and playing video games.
You knew this was coming.
Before I jump in on the main post, I want to put in a crucial note here. While I will talk about some benefits that playing video games has on your mental health, it is not a replacement for seeking professional help. If you or a loved one requires services, you can find those resources at the end of this post.
My research showed that these benefits happen when games are played in moderation. So please use screen time responsibly, whatever that may mean for you or your family.
Okay, now on to our regularly scheduled programming.
In previous posts, I’ve talked about the benefits of video games on literacy and learning and the physical benefits of video games — focusing on motor skills. Today, I want to discuss some mental health benefits. Playing video games can help you relieve stress and get your mind going, but I want to cover three specific areas:
- Mental Health Recovery
- Social Interaction
- Emotional Resilience
Video games can help with trauma recovery as they can act as a distraction. Video games can also help people with anxiety, depression, ADHD, and PTSD. Recent research on the topic has consistently shown that playing video games can effectively manage stress and negative feelings. Additionally, various genres and types of video games have been found to have positive effects, so long as they are personally relevant to the person playing them. In a 2022 study, it was found that playing video games as a family allowed families to cope with collective trauma.
This is where the importance of “low-stakes games” come in. A low-stakes game can be characterized as one where your character can’t die or lose, or you don’t get punished if your character can do those things. Often, these games focus on completing tasks or solving puzzles over beating an enemy. One of my favorite low-stakes games that we happen to have in our collection is Untitled Goose Game. In that game, you are a goose, and your only goal is to cause playful mayhem. After a stressful day, week, or even year (you know which one I’m talking about), it’s very satisfying to play a game where you are encouraged to just run around and honk at people.
Want to know more about low-stakes games? Register for our upcoming program “The Love of “Low-Stakes Games” with game design scholar Josh Bycer.
Another benefit of gaming is social interaction. Multiplayer and online games are good for virtual social interaction. This social interaction can help you strategize or cooperate. It’s also an environment for you to test out talking to and fostering relationships with new people. Of course, if you have younger ones at home, use discretion and pay close attention to who your children are talking to. It may be best for younger kids to keep this as a local multiplayer (so everyone is playing together in the same room) option.
Video games can also help with feelings of social isolation. Social isolation refers to conditions that result in physical isolation, such as (but not limited to): geographic isolation, lack of mobility (due to disability or illness), irregular work hours…or a global pandemic. For those of us who play video games, they felt like a lifeline during the months of lockdown. For me and my immediate friend circle, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was especially helpful in overcoming social isolation. Animal Crossing mixes the calming elements of a low-stakes game with the social benefit of a multiplayer game. While I couldn’t visit my friends at their houses, I could visit their island and interact with them or other villagers. This game also offers soothing tasks like fishing, gardening, or home decor. If I wanted something more high-stakes, I could join my friends for some Mario Kart. This racing game allows you to race as your favorite Super Mario character (I play as King Boo, by the way). These games allowed me to connect with my closest friends and help us process the collective trauma we were experiencing.
And finally, games can help with emotional resilience. Failing (in a game or otherwise) is frustrating. Video games help people learn to cope with failure and to keep trying. By navigating through situations, solving puzzles, or overcoming obstacles in games, you can develop resilience, adaptability, and a greater sense of self-efficacy, which can transfer to real-life scenarios. Some games push us. They give us a story with immersive, high-stakes gameplay and relatable or loveable characters, and then something happens, and we feel momentarily awful. Do we immediately close the game, turn off our consoles, and never play that game again? Not usually. We roll with it and accept it. We keep playing. That is emotional resilience.
I will wrap it up here, and this also wraps up my blog series on video games! For one final time, I encourage you to check out our video game collection. Check out some games; try them out; you might find one you like.
And as promised, if you need mental health resources, here is a list:
- Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988
- Veterans Crisis Line: Dial 988 then press 1
- Crisis Counselors through The Trevor Project: Call 1-866-488-7386 or text ‘Start’ to 678-678
Gray, P. (2015). Cognitive benefits of playing video games. Psychology Today.
Halbrook, Y. J., O’Donnell, A. T., & Msetfi, R. M. (2019). When and how video games can be good: A review of the positive effects of video games on well-being. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(6), 1096-1104.
Pearce, K. E., Yip, J. C., Lee, J. H., Martinez, J. J., Windleharth, T. W., Bhattacharya, A., & Li, Q. (2022). Families playing animal crossing together: coping with video games during the COVID-19 pandemic. Games and Culture, 17(5), 773-794.
Villani, D., Carissoli, C., Triberti, S., Marchetti, A., Gilli, G., & Riva, G. (2018). Videogames for emotion regulation: a systematic review. Games for health journal, 7(2), 85-99.