Video Games. Their impact on the human psyche has been debated for decades. Since their initial creation, there has been much speculation on their influence on the emotional, mental, and physical health of those that consume them. Especially now that gaming of all kinds is very accessible, to almost all demographics.
In one of the recent livestreams, the topic of video games was brought up, and an interesting discussion was sparked about whether video games are, or at the very least can be, good for you. In the end, I was unsure about my stance. However, I want to share my thoughts about this, and maybe together we can come to a decision ourselves.
So… Are video games good for you?
Well we hear a lot about how video games are the cause of aggression and violence in a lot of young males. Often times they’re attributed to anti-social behaviour at best, and the root cause of mass shootings at worst. And sure, I know a few guys in my life who enjoy playing video games, and get very angry whenever the match they’re playing is not quite going their way. But without even looking at the research, I know that in most cases this aggression is very short-lived.
But even when we do look into the research you can see that in most cases this is still true, in that aggression in video games is not linked to behaviour outside of gaming. During the moment sure, but if anything they are often an outlet for anger that could otherwise be directed towards people and objects IRL. Some of the people closest to me are the most gentle and kind-natured of souls, but can also enjoy violent video games in a healthy, controlled way.
And this perspective on gaming, the ‘video games cause violence’ issue, is a narrow one to take. Most of the time when people picture this issue they imagine a ‘Kyle’-type: some spotty, angry white guy who does nothing all day but play first-person shooters in his parent’s basement, not taking care of himself and lashing out at everyone around him. But what about your Aunt Carol who’s on level 564 of her CandyCrush-esque app? Or your little cousin who, as soon as they’re home from school, loads up their creative Minecraft world? Or even your grandparents in the retirement home, who still enjoy playing Wii Sports as a fun form of exercise?
Gaming today is diverse. Very diverse. It is also a highly lucrative industry, with different companies holding different values and ethics, creating different products. So, no two games are exactly alike, both in mechanics and aesthetics. It is hard then to determine whether gaming in of itself truly is an unhealthy practice.
For many, gaming is a creative outlet. Take the most successful game in history; Minecraft. This game has a whole mode dedicated to pure creation, where players are able to choose from a wide palette of blocks to create whatever it is they imagine (so long as it of course can be made from a combination of cubes). How can we attribute something like that to unhealthy amounts of aggression? It just doesn’t make sense.
Not to mention that Minecraft now has a version dedicated to Education, where students and teachers are able to connect and learn together through the gaming medium. While I wonder the full extent of it’s applications in the classroom, we are seeing how games are being incorporated into our society as a tool, rather than just as entertainment.
In fact, prior to committing to supporting others through my coaching, I applied for a position in a business that creates a ‘gamified’ candidate recruitment process for other companies. While they ended up choosing a different candidate, of course my own application involved a couple rounds of their games, which at the end provided useful information about myself that helped the business understand whether I would suit the role. Games are being used to support business recruitment. What a world we live in today!
As a player myself of various games throughout my childhood, and now into adulthood too (though less often these days), I find that if anything, gaming is a way to connect with others. The days of being afraid of strangers on the internet are almost non-existent in today’s world, and nothing could emulate that more than video games. People from around the world can connect over interests and hobbies through whatever platform they’re playing. Not only can that enhance the experience of most games, but it can be very self-rewarding.
In this way, gaming can help build confidence, grow self-esteem, and allow people to have that social interaction that they may be missing from their lives. We can form relationships with others through gaming, and whether that transpires into the real world or not, can be a source of comfort to those who have no one else. In that way, gaming in my opinion is a very good practice for those who just want to be themselves, and to connect with like-minded people.
That being said: If there is a lot of good that gaming is doing these days, why is my stance still conflicted on them?
If anything, my biggest issue around gaming is it’s addictive nature. As said previously, gaming is a lucrative, billion-pound industry, with big players pumping out very popular games. Like social media, a lot of these games are designed in a way to keep you playing as long as possible. That positive-feedback loop of players engaging with the game, and being rewarded for it, is what can hook someone in and not let them go.
When gaming becomes an obsession, taking over someone’s life detrimentally, that is when I have a problem with it. And it can happen all too quickly, and all too often. Throw in micro-transactions, and half-baked games with never-ending DLC or subscription passes, and you have yourself a financially-draining hole the won’t let you go. I would say it’s almost like gambling, except gaming giants have already been criticised for their use of ‘loot box’ mechanics that are already gambling in its truest form.
While I thankfully have not found myself in this exact position, I know what it is like to be hooked into games in an unhealthy way. Gaming is a great distraction, and an escape from a bad reality. No matter what that distraction is, if we are using it to run away from our problems, over facing them head on, we are on our way to personal disaster…
As a teenager I was very heavily into my games. Back then it was offline gaming mostly, by myself on my PS2 (and PS3 later on). Though I had my brothers to play with in local co-op from time-to-time. The enjoyment I got out of these games was amazing, and I have some fond memories of playing with friends who would come over to hang out. But at the time I didn’t realise I was using it as an escape from the difficulties I was facing.
During that tumultuous point of any teenagers life I was having a confusing time finding my true identity. There were a lot of changes in friendships and relationships too. But mostly I was finding it hard to meet the expectations of my parents, and the ones I was putting on myself academically. I was a heavy procrastinator back then, and though I would often get that nagging feeling in the back of my mind to finish that piece of homework, I would often leave it to the very last minute for the sake of some more gaming.
Luckily, I was able to recognise the problem once my mental health really took a turn. Though I didn’t quit altogether, I had to make a conscious effort to remove a lot of gaming from my life. I made myself disinterested, so that I could refocus on healthier hobbies. I took up a lot more cooking and baking, which I was always interested in, but never got around to doing. You bet that these days I can bake up a mean banana loaf!
Now I can enjoy games as and when I please, without it taking over my life. I am always mindful if I find myself losing huge chunks of time, and make a point of reigning it in if needs be. Some may call me a ‘filthy casual’. I call it a healthy balance.
So to me, the argument should no longer be fixated on whether video games make you aggressive and antisocial. If you’re an angry person in life, you’ll be an angry person in games (and vice versa). Instead we should be moving towards a discussion as to what point gaming goes from simple entertainment, to an all consuming break from reality. That is the question we should be asking ourselves, our health professionals, and the gaming industry as a whole.
From my own experiences, and from my psychological training, I know that there is a lot of good that can come from gaming. I think when enjoyed in moderation, like most things, gaming can be a great source of positive emotional and mental wellbeing. It’s also just nice to have a bit of fun, especially during these stressful times. Balance is key – it’s just finding what is right for you.
Saying all this, I would still like to hear your opinion. Do you think gaming is simply a bad habit? Do you enjoy gaming yourself, and have noticed any positive or negative health outcomes from it? Please let me know in the comments below, so that we can have a proper discussion ourselves!