In a world where stress and anxiety are all too common, finding healthy outlets for relaxation and mental well-being is crucial. Surprisingly, one such avenue for achieving this balance can be found within the digital realms of gaming.
Contrary to stereotypes of gaming as an isolating and unproductive activity, there’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that video games can have a remarkably positive impact on mental health. Games won’t give you square eyes or turn you into violent, murderous killers. In fact, they can be a very healthy way to unwind, relieve stress and in many cases, even learn. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the world of gaming and explore the ways in which it can promote relaxation, stress relief, and cognitive benefits. From game mechanics that engage our minds to social interactions and immersive experiences that foster a sense of belonging, gaming offers a multifaceted approach to enhancing our mental well-being.
While there are the obvious ones like FIFA (now “EAFC”), Call of Duty and Fortnite, beyond those are many games that use the medium to delve deeper into mental health—even as far as exploring specific mental health issues or themes—and do a great job of not only raising awareness on the matter, but also going a way to help deal with such issues too.
Gris, Celeste, Spiritfarer and Psychonauts 2 all take a look at MH issues in great depth. Now, these are just a handful of examples. The list is a long one (and isn’t going to get any shorter). If you want to explore more games that deal with mental health, simply pop over to Google and search ‘mental health games’. It’s a great place to start.
One of the most significant ways in which gaming positively affects mental health is by stimulating cognitive functions and mental agility. Many video games require players to solve complex puzzles, make strategic decisions, and think critically. These challenges can boost problem-solving skills, enhance memory, and improve overall cognitive function. Games like Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and strategy games provide mental workouts that keep our minds sharp.
Additionally, some games are designed specifically to target mental health concerns. For example, Headspace: Meditation & Sleep and Calm offer mobile apps that gamify meditation and relaxation techniques, helping users manage stress and anxiety through interactive experiences. There are plenty more too, many of which are designed to help tackle particular mental health issues, which we’ll take a more detailed look at in my next article, to be published on this site later this week.
Escapism is a powerful tool for managing stress, and video games offer an immersive way to escape the pressures of daily life. Games provide a safe space where players can temporarily step away from their stressors and focus on enjoyable challenges. This “flow state” that gamers often experience, characterised by intense focus and complete immersion in the game, can be incredibly relaxing and rejuvenating.
Games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing simulate peaceful, idyllic worlds where players can engage in activities like farming, fishing, and building without the pressures of real-life deadlines. These games create a sense of calm and contentment, providing an antidote to the stresses of the outside world.
Gaming has evolved into a highly social activity. Many made today are designed for multiplayer interactions, allowing players to connect with friends or make new acquaintances from around the world. These social connections can be particularly beneficial for individuals struggling with feelings of loneliness or isolation. Online gaming communities often provide a sense of belonging and camaraderie. Players can collaborate on team-based games, embark on epic quests together, or simply chat and bond over shared interests. These connections can help combat social isolation and foster a sense of community, which is crucial for mental well-being.
Video games can also serve as a form of emotional expression and catharsis. Some games offer deeply emotional narratives that allow players to explore complex themes, confront personal fears, or process difficult emotions in a safe and controlled environment. Games like Journey, Gris, and That Dragon, Cancer are known for their emotionally resonant storytelling and provide players with an opportunity to connect with their own emotions. Moreover, games that allow players to vent frustration, such as Angry Birds or Beat Saber, can serve as a healthy outlet for releasing pent-up emotions and reducing stress. The act of engaging with these games can be cathartic and provide a much-needed emotional release.
In recent years, there has been a surge in “mindfulness games” designed to promote relaxation and mental well-being. These games often incorporate meditation and relaxation exercises into their gameplay mechanics. For instance, Never Alone incorporates Inupiaq (An Inuit tribe of North Alaska) cultural values and storytelling to create a calming and educational experience. Similarly, Flowy is a game that encourages deep breathing and relaxation through gameplay. By engaging with these games, players can learn valuable mindfulness techniques that can be applied in their daily lives to manage stress and anxiety.
While there’s a prevailing stereotype that gaming is a solitary and potentially harmful pastime, it’s important to recognise the positive impact it can have on mental health. From enhancing cognitive function and promoting relaxation to facilitating social connections and offering emotional expression, gaming has the potential to be a powerful tool for well-being.
However, it’s crucial to strike a healthy balance when engaging in gaming. Like any form of entertainment, moderation is key (a concept any fan of Starfield will tell you is tricky to stick to). When approached mindfully and in moderation, gaming can be a valuable addition to your mental health toolkit, providing a refreshing break from the challenges of everyday life and a source of relaxation, connection, and personal growth.
At the very least, now there’s no need to feel so bad the next time you pick up that controller (that is of course, if you’ve done your homework).