According to a recent study, there is growing evidence that playing commercial video games, which are primarily played for enjoyment, can help reduce anxiety and even depression.
Compared to established mental health treatments, video games are typically more inexpensive and accessible, which may encourage more people to seek basic help.
The use of video games as treatment is likely to complement rather than replace traditional therapy, however, according to experts.
In order to write this paper, the researchers examined past studies to determine if general-purpose video games, as opposed to therapeutic video games, may fill in the gaps in mental health care, especially for depression and anxiety.
According to the study, playing video games may help reduce depressive symptoms including pleasure loss.
“Minecraft” and “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” for example, are computer games that encourage social interaction and lessen loneliness.
Miami University in Ohio Professor Glenn Platt says that “Video games provide connection, which is a critical aspect of mental health, feeling like you’re part of a community of like minded people who value your participation and share your goals within the game. Isolation plays a significant role in anxiety and depression. The support of a community within the gaming ecosystem mitigates this.”
Additionally, playing some video games might help you regulate your mood. Teenagers who played “Mario Kart” had greater emotional control than their friends who didn’t, another study found.
Additionally, video games could be utilized as a therapeutic distraction to control moods, lessen dwelling on the past, and even just inspire delight.
Thriveworks Philadelphia clinical director Drew Lightfoot says that “As a licensed professional counselor and a gamer myself, I’m ecstatic to see more research and resources such as this one begin proliferating around serious psychological discussions. The study’s correct stating that video games can be used to help treat anxiety, depression, and social anxiety.”
Most importantly, the researchers discovered that commercial video games (usually created for amusement) are just as beneficial to mental health as custom games created for therapeutic purposes.
Platt mentions that “The problem with bespoke video games (such as ‘brain games’) is that they generally are not really games. When you’re told to click things on a screen to improve your mental health, that’s also not a game—it is therapy. A critical quality of a game is that it’s played voluntarily. Research has repeatedly validated the importance of motivation for behavior change, which is what leads us to the insight from this article: that people play commercial video games simply because they want to. And as such, the beneficial aspects of such games are bestowed as a byproduct of being fun and not the outcome of game’ homework.'”
The authors point out that among adults between the ages of 18 and 54, who also frequently have mental health problems, playing video games is already very common.
Such studies may reduce stigmas associated with gaming and mental diseases as awareness of the emotional advantages of video games increases.
“We need to stop stereotyping gamers and acknowledge that we’re all gamers now. In the same way that other media, such as books, TV, and movies, weren’t taken seriously when they were first introduced, society has to accept games as a legitimate media which can improve the lives of those who engage,” Platt goes on to say.
Many of the obstacles that stop people from receiving conventional mental health care are also not as big of an issue when it comes to gaming.
Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research assistant professor Michael L. Birnbaum explains that “Video games can offer better access to adjunctive therapeutic intervention as they can just be played at home and at any time, as opposed to usual care, which normally occurs less frequently and can be quite expensive.”
He does, however, add that he doesn’t believe video games can completely replace therapists.
Overall, games can be a great addition to closing the gap, but they are insufficient to serve as a true substitute for therapy.