For many of us growing up video games were something we played on the regular they allowed us to get competitive and provided us with an escape. From handheld gaming consoles like Gameboys, Nintendo DSs and now the Switch to consoles like PlayStation, Xbox and the Wii. Video games have been apart of our lives both in the past, present and will continue to be in the future. This doesn’t include computer games such as Neopets, Club Penguin, Minecraft and Fortnight or phone apps – remember the Pokémon Go obsession? All of which have fluctuated in popularity over the years.
During Covid people turned to video games as a coping mechanism with the hours of video game play increasing during the pandemic. With many people turning to playing the game Animal Crossing New Horizons using it not just as an escape but also a way to connect with people during an isolating time. Animal Crossing has been around since 2001. But when Animal Crossing New Horizons was released on the Switch in March 2020 just as the pandemic was taking hold, it allowed people to escape to their own Covid free virtual island (with some extremely cheerful residents) and connect with other people in real time by visiting their islands or vice versa. There have even been studies done on the impact that playing Animal Crossing during the pandemic had on people. The good thing about Animal Crossing is that there’s no violence or nastiness, there’s also no real aim or end to the game, so people could just about it at their own paces fulfilling tasks and developing their island. It was no surprise that so many people played it and used it as a form of self-care during the various lockdowns and ups and downs of Covid.
There have been many theories and arguments that video games can have a negative impact on people and can contribute to causing mental illnesses and changing behaviours. One study in 2012 which looked at over 3000 students in Singapore showed that violent or aggressive video games are not a risk factor for mental health problems in youth. However, another study in 2014 done in the US where over 5000 fifth grade students (aged between 10 and 11) were surveyed found that those who played violent video games for over 2 hours a day were at higher risk of depression compared to those who played less than 2 hours a day of violent video games or low violent video games. Of course, this was such a small study and it recognised that more research needed to be done before an official link could be made. Something to note is that as video games are getting more complex and more people are growing up with them more research will need to be done to find out the full impacts and effects video games can have on people.
If anything, research is showing that playing video games can actually have a positive impact on your mental health and that there are long term benefits to gaming regularly. Gaming regularly has been shown to improve memory, focus and multitasking along with allowing people to connect with friends and family across the world. These benefits can be seen across the board regardless of what games you play even violent video games can have positive impacts and can allow people to get out their anger and frustrations in a safe environment. There are also positive medical impacts gaming can have from helping improve balance in those who have degenerative diseases, helping teens with ADHD improve their thinking skills and helping surgeons train their skills to be able to do complex surgeries.
Something to be aware of is video game addiction. This is very real and even has an official name – Internet Gaming Disorder but it is something that is only now being investigated in great detail. Consistent or excessive game play (anything over 20 hours a week) can undo all the good of playing video games and can cause negative effects. With it being highlighted that those who suffer from anxiety are more likely to have a dependency on video games and form an addiction. But taking regular breaks, staying grounded and talking to a therapist can help reduce the chances of addiction. Everything in moderation and if people are starting to use video games as a vice or to consistently escape the real world then it’s time to talk to someone and find healthier strategies.
At the end of the day playing video games can have positive benefits on your mental health and for many people it provides an escape from the real world and is a form of self-care. So if you find yourself reaching for your game of choice at the of the day, don't feel guilty and like you should instead be doing something more productive. Instead enjoy the escape and let your mind recharge knowing that you are helping your mental health.
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