The article is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.
While it may be easy to hold a negative mental picture of video gaming as something that keeps people from holding down a job or socializing, recent research presents a more mixed view of both positives and negatives that are worth taking a closer look at.
Whether you’re an occasional player or an avid daily gamer or know someone who is, it’s important to be aware of the potential for gaming to interfere with your life. There may come a time when you need to seek support with a therapist or online therapy to examine your video gaming habits. The key is being aware of yourself and what kind of relationship you have with playing video games. One day it could be healthy, while in other seasons of our lives our gaming habits may be interfering with leading our best lives and reaching our goals.
In this article, we’ll look at five facts everyone should know about keeping a healthy balance between gaming and mental wellbeing.
#1 – Yes, There Is Such A Thing As “Gaming Disorder”
The World Health Organization defines “gaming disorder” in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11) as someone having a behavior that “results in significant impairment to a person’s functioning in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas” for at least one year.
The good news is that this is only a diagnosed disorder in a relatively small percentage of video game players overall. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to set some better boundaries for video game playing, which may lead to positive changes in your life overall. Say you were to spend a half hour less per day gaming and instead went for a 30-minute walk per day. What positive changes would that lead to?
So in many cases it’s not the gaming that’s good or bad, it’s the way it’s interfering with other aspects of your life because of the time it takes away from other activities – leading to imbalance in certain life areas.
#2 – You Can Use Gaming To Become More Physically Active
Gaming can actually help you become more physically active when used as a tool. If physical fitness is one of the areas in your life you’re not spending enough time on, then simply changing the kinds of video games you play could lead to better outcomes for your physical health. Consider trying one of the dancing competition video games or virtual reality games that involve more activity than pushing a button on a console.
There are more options than ever for bringing physicality into your video gaming routine, including games devoted to improving physical fitness and even learning new sports like boxing. Imagine having your own boxing coach to critique your form? You can have unique experiences with an online video game that may not be possible in real life.
It could be worthwhile to try something new by adding video games to your workouts, especially if you’ve found traditional exercise routines to be challenging to stick with.
#3 – Video Games Can Be A Valuable Tool In Education
Gamification can make learning your wellness coursework, math or English or any new skill more fun. By integrating educational content into video games, students can engage in interactive experiences that enhance their comprehension and retention of complex concepts. This innovative approach to education harnesses the power of technology and entertainment, making learning a truly enjoyable and effective process. We can use the dopamine reward response in video games to encourage us to help learn school subjects as well as develop problem-solving skills with puzzles and brain teasers.
Dopamine is the reward response system in the body that can make video games feel so satisfying. Once you get the feedback of successfully completing a level or challenge or question, a hit of dopamine may be released. We can get the same release of dopamine after practicing a song on the piano over and over again until we’ve mastered it, but video games can make the progress easier to identify that success than it often is in real life.
That positive feeling of success and hit of dopamine in video games can encourage learning.
#4 – Gaming Can Hold Valuable Social Benefits
Loneliness has been described as an epidemic in the United States, especially after being separated from our daily routines for so long during Covid. For many, playing video games can be a way to make new friends online or to maintain closer relationships with friends and family. If you’re using your video game console to play with a family member who doesn’t live close to you, then you may be able to strengthen family ties. The possible danger to look out for is if video games are taking the place of regular socialization.
Anytime video games become a substitute for spending time with friends or family, then it may be time to evaluate your gaming habits with a professional therapist.
#5 – Gaming Has Mental Health Benefits and Is Used In Treating Depression
According to one study, more than 88% of video game users reported receiving an emotional boost from playing. The benefits seemed to be most closely correlated with role-playing games, games in the survival horror genre, and music games. Another point from the study is the amount of time spent playing, video games must be played in moderation to receive optimal mental health benefits.
The same study also reported that video games have been used to successfully treat people for depression and anxiety. While there are many tools that can help lead people to better mental health, for some people symptoms may not resolve through a change of habits or better diet and exercise, and that’s okay. At some point, it may be necessary to seek out the support of a therapist in person or through online therapy.
While it’s not all fun and games when it comes video gaming, there are both negative and positive aspects to gaming to consider. Take time to examine whether you’re in a healthy relationship with playing video games, and don’t hesitate in asking for support if your experience with gaming becomes more negative and is interfering with your life. Remember gaming has the potential to be a positive force in your life, it’s all in the way you play the game.