Healing mental illness is a continuous process that involves plenty of fun activities with gaming on the forefront. The gaming industry in America alone is worth close to $20 billion and researchers at SuperData recently revealed that the video game-streaming service, Twitch has more subscribers than HBO, Netflix, ESPN, and Hulu combined. That means more people watch people play video games online than people watch movies or sports.
With the prevalence of gaming, the medical community has taken cue and has started using it as therapy for sick patients particularly those with mental illness. The American Psychological Association did a study on the psychological benefits of gaming and reemphasized gaming’s profound psychological effects.
How video games help those with mental illness
1. It creates a sense of motivation
All games have an objective (even if some are vague about it). Whether you’re playing a role-playing game as the chosen saviour of a kingdom or a soldier on a team trying to get more kills than the other, you play a game to beat it. These objectives put the player through a challenge but one that is fun and drives players to meet them.
Jane McGonigal, a game designer and author, pointed out that gaming is the neurological opposite of depression. When we game, we get a “real sense of optimism in our abilities and opportunities to succeed, and more physical and mental energy to engage with difficult problems,” she explained. Brain scans identified the rewards pathway system, associated with motivation and goal creation, is most active during gaming. This type of motivation inspires the mind and in a special case even helped heal a child with cancer.
2. It helps develop positive emotions
Adding from McGonigal’s point, most video games are made challenging but beatable for a particular reason: it makes players feel great about themselves. Most gamers get into the hobby as a form of escapism: to unplug from all their worldly problems and just enjoy. They have more control of this flight of fantasy unlike other media like movies or books because they are in it. They can be more invested mentally and emotionally.
By being immersed, gamers report intense emotions that develop mostly of a euphoric state especially when they accomplish a difficult task. Surrounding themselves with this burst of positive stimulation can help broaden the number of their desirable behaviours, which supports their ambitions and helps build social relationships according to psychologist Barbara Frederickson.
3. It gives social exposure and helps make connections
With the advent of online gaming, video games have reached a new level of popularity. Helped by social media and an ever-increasingly transparent society, many gamers can now connect with others who share similar interests as they do. This type of socialization can help fight off depression or feelings of isolation and even be beneficial to children. While the risk of cyber-bullying is there, the continued development of online gaming makes it easier to game without harassment.
Video games have also spawned a multitude of characters players get to relate or aspire to be. It also creates communities not just online but in reality as gamers unite during fan expositions like E3 or comic-con parading with their favourite character costumes and basking in a fun and creative environment with others who feel the same.