Contrary to popular belief, recent studies have shown that gaming is not just entertainment. It can have a crucial benefit on your mental health.
For the first time, Oxford academics have used actual gameplay data from EA’s strategy game Plants vs Zombies and Nintendo’s sandbox phenomenon Animal Crossing in their experiment. The researchers have found that those who spend more time gaming reported a significant increase in their “well-being.”
With more than half of America being projected to have at least one mental illness during their lifetime, and 75% of U.S. households having at least one gamer, developers need to consider that people with mental disorders will be playing the game and tweak them accordingly.
Keep reading to uncover the results of this revolutionary research, as well as six recent discoveries about the influence of video games on our mental health.
Six key mental health advantages of gaming
According to specialists from WebMD, video games can help you relax and keep your mental state going even if you’ve suffered a trauma in the past. Some advantages of gaming include:
1. The feeling of accomplishment
Gaming, in general, has a lot of goals you need to achieve. Whenever you successfully accomplish an objective in a video game, you get the feeling of satisfaction, which can positively impact your state of well-being.
The feeling of achievement reaches its peak when the game has a trophy system that rewards you for reaching a milestone. The more complex the achievement, the more satisfaction you get from playing that game since you have more motivation to continue your gameplay (even after completing the base storyline).
2. Recovery from trauma
Since gaming is a common form of entertainment, psychologists have tested its effects on trauma recovery. For this experiment, they used two groups: trauma patients who play video games and a control group just doing regular therapy.
The results? Those that played video games recovered their mental health twice as fast.
It seems that video games can be a great distraction from any mental health disorder or even physical pain. The mental disorders that were treated with gaming therapy include PTSD, depression, anxiety, or even ADHD.
One clear benefit of online and multiplayer video games is that it allows us to interact with people from all over the world. Some video games like League of Legends require coordinating with four other teammates to win.
If you’re a fan of fast-paced online games, then it’s your duty to learn which players you can trust and cooperate with them to increase your chances of winning.
Most multiplayer games are the perfect medium for you to try making new friends and creating strong relationships with the other players, which can benefit you both in-game and in real life.
4. Mental stimulation
Video games are primarily about problem-solving. Whenever you play a complex game, various areas of the brain area fire up, allowing you to achieve an enhanced level of thinking.
Not all games are made equal, but complex ones (like CoD: Warzone) require instant reaction and the ability to quickly analyze the environment to identify the opponent’s position. Whenever you play video games, you’re actively training your critical thinking abilities, which are crucial for working a tech job or having a business.
5. Emotional flexibility
Remember that feeling of failure to complete a level in a game after trying countless times?
Even though it is frustrating, it can help you learn how to deal with failure and repeatedly try until you finally pass that level.
Having a well-developed coping mechanism is a crucial skill that children can learn, which will help them when adulthood begins. Even though hostile media says that video games can harm a child’s emotional state, specialists have shown that gaming improves your mood and can have long-term effects.
6. Improving cognitive skills
Video games, especially simulations of real-life activities, can help you master that skill in a virtual environment. Take casino games, for example. If you’re the type of person that likes playing poker or blackjack, you will most likely run into a problem with developing your strategy.
Thus, instead of risking your real money while trying to learn how to play correctly, you can train on one of the available video games that simulate gambling environments. The best example for this scenario is GTA V Online, where you can purchase a gambling resort and play all the casino games, which is a great way to train your skills while having fun.
Of course, the cognitive skills that video games can help you develop are not only applicable for gambling. For instance, if you play an online game like League of Legends, you will have to remember hundreds of items, champions and decision-making factors.
Specialists have reported an increased memory capacity for those that have played the game for more than three years, compared to a non-gamer control group. So, you could say that video games can indeed help you learn or even make more money (by developing specific skills faster)
Bonus – the anatomy of the gamer’s brain
This infographic below presents the scientific summary of the health benefits brought by video games:
Oxford’s revolutionary study on video games
The Oxford video game study is the first one made using actual play-time data. The research team successfully linked psychological surveys with the records of the time spent playing of the participants for the all-age games Animal Crossing and Plants vs Zombies.
Previous studies on video games relied on self-reported time, which rarely represents reality. That being said, we tend to underestimate the time we spend playing games.
“This is about bringing games into the fold of psychology research that’s not a dumpster fire,” declared Andrew Przybylski, the leader of the research team.
The study helped the researchers understand how video games influence us and determine if any of the data collected by game development corporations can be used for academic purposes and research the health issues created or solved by gaming.
At the beginning of the project, Pryzbylski was shocked by the lack of gameplay data available at gaming companies. Until he started this project, almost nobody ever thought it would be a great idea to use the information in a research study in this data-driven world.
He considers that data can play a crucial role in solving the dispute between the health benefits and the potential threats that gaming offers its players.
For example, the new study shows a direct correlation between playing 4 hours of Animal Crossing a day and the overall happiness of the player.
However, this fact is only interesting because nobody else used this data to address the mental health benefits of video games. For now, the study focuses only on identifying the advantages of gaming. Still, the researchers are thinking of extending the study on the negative influence excessive gaming has on the player.
The future of gaming addiction studies
Let’s face it – the Oxford study was made on two of the most wholesome games on the market, Animal Crossing, and Plants vs Zombies. It would be interesting to see the research expand to less child-friendly games like shooters or “outlaw” simulators such as GTA V or Red Dead Redemption 2.
Still, the research paper contrasts the enjoyment of playing a game for fun and the concerning influences that it can have on a player, such as being pressured into playing by other gamers or even by the game’s mechanics that are addictive by design.
We hope that this study continues, and it will show us a more concise explanation of gaming addiction and how we can prevent it.
Still, it makes no sense that in more than 30 years since video games became a primary form of entertainment that’s clearly addictive, nobody ever thought of running a study on the influence of gaming. Considering that 70% of U.S. teenagers are actively playing video games, it’s about time someone started analyzing the data into more detail.
Even though the gaming usage statistics are concerning, the NHS and World Health Organization aren’t allocating any resources for combatting gaming addiction, on the argument that there’s not enough data.
That’s shocking even for the Oxford researchers, since ignoring this will not only stain the reputation of these organizations, but it can also drastically influence the overall well-being of society.
Video games can spark a lot of controversies.
While the common belief (especially among parents) is that gaming is just a waste of time, researchers have shown that video games can be used to improve your mental health and develop your cognitive and social abilities.
The problem is that the global health institutions are not taking gaming more seriously, on the argument that they don’t have any data available.
Researchers think that the solution to including gaming as a form of therapy is relatively simple – gaming companies need to start collecting relevant data and share it with the WHO. Once this collaboration is in place, it will be easy to determine an addiction pattern and correlate gaming with increased mental well-being.
For now, all we can do is hope that the Oxford study will reach a scientific breakthrough that will grab the attention of the industry and convince them to switch their focus to improving the mental health of gamers of all ages.