May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Let’s take some time to discuss what playing video games can do for your mental mindset.
The new Zelda video game just debuted on Friday, which means I won’t see my husband for the next six months, give or take. Kidding, kinda. My husband is like a toddler with a new toy when a video game from his favorite series drops. He doesn’t want to stop playing, he doesn’t want to focus on anything else and he absolutely is not going to share. This happened the last time a new Zelda game dropped back in 2017, too. There was a deep, dark hole he fell into and didn’t emerge from for about three months. It was so fun for me.
Video games, to non-gamers like me, can seem frustrating. They can feel like a waste of time or an irritating distraction. But video games, like everything, come with a flurry of benefits to the player, from mental stimulation to enhancing cognitive thinking skills. And yes, video games, when consumed in excess, can also have negative and unwanted side effects.
As my husband spiraled down his Zelda rabbit hole, I started my research on this article. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I had questions about how much my husband should really be gaming and how bad it is for him, actually. So, friends, here it is. The good, the bad and the ugly of video gaming as it relates to the mental health of the kids and adults who love to game.
Video games and mental health: the good
Video games have a variety of benefits for your mental well-being. Although you may not physically interact with other people as you play video games, you are often connecting with others virtually, meaning video games as necessarily as isolating as we are sometimes led to believe. According to WebMD, here are just a few of the mental benefits of playing video games.
- Mental Stimulation. Playing a video game requires a lot of thought, including problem solving, thinking on your feet and strategizing. Video gamers repeatedly make real time decisions that have on-screen repercussions, leading them to develop a deep understanding of critical thinking. Video gamers are prone to develop mental skills that enable them to think on their toes in real life.
- Feeling a sense of accomplishment. You know the feeling you get when you check an item off your to-do list? Or you finish a novel it’s taken you a minute to read? Or when you tackle that household project you’ve put off for far too long? Video gamers get the same sense of pride and accomplishment after successfully completing a level or an entire game. And that’s something to be proud of!
- Social interaction. Sure, oftentimes you play video games alone at your house. But many games nowadays enable you to virtually connect with players from around the country and the world. My middle daughter looks forward to playing Roblox with her friends a few times a week, especially the friends she doesn’t go to school with. It gives them something to bond over even when they can’t physically be together. Playing video games can be very social!
- Emotional resilience. In life it can be hard to pick yourself up and try again once you’ve failed at something. Failure is hard, no matter how old you are or how many times you’ve failed. Video gamers know this in spades. And losing a game and gathering the strength to come back and try again and learn from past missteps is something video gamers learn early on, and this is a great life lesson at any age or skill level in relation to just about everything in life!
Video games and mental health: the bad
We’ve established that video games can offer a lot of good to players for mental health reasons. Video games allow people to (virtually) socialize, critically think and more. But, like with anything, there is a downside to playing video games. Here are a few ways video gaming can be bad for your mental health, according to Esports Healthcare.
- Using video games to avoid real life. Video games can be a fun way to pass some time… Or a worrisome way to deal with real life emotions and problems you’d rather not think about. Facing real life problems is something we have to do throughout our lives, and avoiding problems rarely makes them go away. Make sure the video gamer in your life isn’t escaping to a virtual world in an attempt to put off problems in real life that need to be handled or solved.
- Video game addiction. Like an addiction to alcohol, gambling, sugar or anything else, video game addiction is very real and can be something serious gamers may face. Anything in moderation, as the saying goes. But what about when a gamer’s grades or work or personal relationships are suffering because they can’t step away from the screen and enjoy real life, that is cause for concern. If you think your gamer may have an addiction, here is a great resource for help.
Video games and mental health: the ugly
Perhaps the most detrimental part of too much video gaming isn’t necessarily the mental aspect, at least not directly, but rather the physical. Video gaming tends to be a sedentary activity. Although it offers a slew of mental benefits as outlined above, it often requires players to sit for hours on end, moving little other than fingers and wrists during that time.
It is also easy, while you are engrossed in video games, to fuel your gaming session with poor food choices. Gamers may reach for chips or candy or sugar-y energy drinks to keep them on the edge of their seats and engrossed with the screen. Highly processed foods, especially in large amounts, coupled with minimal physical activity, can rapidly take a very negative toll on a body. And being out of physical shape can negatively affect a person’s mental health. (Here’s a great article we did about meal replacement shakes for gamers if you are looking for healthier alternatives!) Too much video gaming may lead to weight gain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and more.
That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t enjoy playing video games! As long as you are aware of the good, the bad and the ugly, you can prepare yourself to make the most of your video game time and strike a healthy balance with real world activities. Happy gaming, friends!