Gaming to boost mental health: 5 tips from a psychologist

Video games are a great way to relax, escape reality, and have some fun – but they’re also a double-edged sword. Under certain circumstances, playing video games can easily turn from a fun and light-hearted activity into a problematic behavior that leads to irritability, addiction, and social isolation. So what’s the best way to navigate this slippery slope? Is there any way to get all the mental health benefits of gaming while avoiding the pitfalls?

To get some guidance, we reached out to Dr. Kelly Dunlap, a clinical psychologist, game designer, and educator with a passion for all things gaming and mental health. Here are some tips and tricks to help you ensure that gaming is beneficial to your mental, emotional and social well-being.

Digital Trends: Much of the conversation about “positive” gaming hinges on the “right” type of game – for example, tame, cute games like stardew valley either Mario Kart, But what if you don’t like these types of games? What if you are into fighting games, shooters, or survival horror? If you enjoy playing sports with rivalry, gore, violence, etc., what can you do to make sure you’re getting the positive mental health benefits of being in that kind of environment?

Dr. Dunlap: That’s the wonderful thing about games, there’s an almost limitless number of possibilities to choose from. Our mental health benefits most when we are engaged in something we enjoy or find meaningful. If you enjoy planting crops, that’s great. If you enjoy explosions, that’s great too. Playing sport is about engaging in the parts of yourself that recharge your batteries and there is no one sport or style of sport that fits the bill for all. As my mom always says, “Do what makes your heart happy.”

Is there any one type or style of sport that provides more mental health benefits than others? Similarly, are specific types of sports better for specific age groups? For example, puzzle games for older adults?

No one sport or type of sport is going to be beneficial for everyone. When looking at games to provide mental health benefits, it’s like writing a prescription. You need to know about the person, their history and their needs as well as their interests and abilities. It may be helpful to think of the mental benefits of gaming as psychological weight lifting. Want to work on your creative problem-solving? Try a puzzle game! Is the world feeling tense and out of control? try simulation games, such as the simsTo bring a sense of calmness and control.

With many games explicitly designed to get us hooked and keep us in the game, playing into the brain’s natural reward system to ensure that we keep playing for as long as possible is how we avoid addictive behavior. can? what steps can we take When is the game we’re playing designed for addiction?

Some games use “dark design patterns”, a style of design that preys on weaknesses in our processing of information, social interactions, and emotions. Celia Hodent has done a wonderful job in this area. In terms of what players can do, the simplest answer is to check in with yourself and make sure you’re still Enjoying what are you doing. Gaming can be an intensely engaging activity and, from the outside, it can be really hard to tell the difference between high engagement and problematic play.

But one of the key differences is that engagement gives us “the good feels,” such as a sense of accomplishment or relaxation. One sign of problematic play is that play is no longer enjoyable – it feels like work, or the grind, or that if you don’t log on, something bad will happen (eg, progress lost, opportunity lost, etc. below). ). Sometimes games are frustrating, and there can be a feeling of grind or drudgery, but if this is the bulk of your experience, perhaps it’s a good idea to re-evaluate your relationship with games.

man playing video game

To get the most mental health benefits from gaming, is there an optimal gaming session time we should aim for? We hear a lot in the media about the negative effects of gaming for far too long and too often. Do we continue to reap the same positive mental health benefits during longer sports sessions, or is short and sweet better?

There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for spending time gaming. A recent study by the Royal Society basically says that the amount of time spent playing doesn’t matter. usually it is Why? You play is what matters, not for how long.

Are you playing because you’re having fun, hanging out with friends, saving the world, or proving your skills? Or are you playing because you feel you need to, because you need to grind for that next level, or is the Red Team counting on you? Play for enjoyment, excitement, relaxation and connection is one of the ways we meet our basic needs. But if we’re playing out of a sense of obligation — play feels like work or work — then it’s time to re-evaluate our relationship with sport.

In an age of online MMORPGs, co-op shooters, battle royale games, and VR, how can we protect our mental health while cooperatively gaming online with strangers? Do these sports offer different benefits or risks to our mental health?

I have made some amazing friendships through online gaming. Some I have had the opportunity to meet in person at conferences or events, and some I know only by the sound of their voices. Online friendships are “real” friendships, despite what many headlines might tell you. However, most people, when they are playing online games in a social setting with people they already know, like a club. And, similar to a club, it’s not really about the sport or activity itself, but rather the culture and social norms within that club.

For example, some sports communities are incredibly toxic while others are gosh-darn healthy. Protecting your mental health will mean taking note of the tone and culture of a game’s community and, if there is some toxicity in that community, taking steps to protect yourself. For example, I’m a huge fan of Halo and love playing online multiplayer. However, I am in a party chat (private voice chat) with my friends while playing and do not interact with “randoms” on my team or the other team. I wish I didn’t have to take the extra step, but doing so makes me less likely to face harassment or abuse while still allowing me to hang out with my friends.

Frustrated young woman playing with hands on head

What if you already have mental health problems like depression or anxiety? Can gaming help? Is there a specific type or style of sport that, say, someone with anxiety would benefit most from playing (and equally, any sport style to avoid)?

Sports are not a replacement for mental health treatment, but they can be a tool in managing or recovering from mental health issues. Many people use sports as a way to help them cope with difficult situations or times in their lives, and this includes managing psychological challenges such as depression and anxiety. There are countless personal stories from gamers of how the game helped them by giving them something to look forward to, [making them] feel connected to others, or [allowing] To make them feel in control or capable.

What kind of sports produce these benefits is deeply individual and personal. Some people with depression prefer sports that give them an escape, to be somewhere where depression can’t get to them. Others may enjoy playing games about depression or with depressive themes because it helps them to acknowledge their experience and feel validated for being heard. Similarly, someone with anxiety may avoid horror games (like me!), while others may enjoy horror games because those games create a form of anxiety that they have control over.

Many parents do not allow their children to play violent, gory or scary games because they worry that it is harmful to mental health. Is there really any evidence to support this? Can these types of games have their own unique advantages or qualities?

Research on violent video games has repeatedly found that there is no link between playing violent video games and violent behavior. Playing violent video games doesn’t make someone act violently. However, there is something to be said about the developmental appropriateness of a game. For example, I don’t let my 6-year-old son play Call of Duty – not because I’m concerned that a violent game will lead to violent behavior, but because it’s not appropriate content for a 6-year-old.

I don’t let my 6-year-old watch R-rated movies or Mature-rated television shows. Exposure to material that is not developmentally appropriate, regardless of the medium, can have negative effects. If parents think their child is not ready to play a particular type of game, this is a good opportunity for parent and child to sit down and have a conversation about gaming, maturity, and safety.

With your years of experience as a clinical psychologist and game designer, taking into account the above and anything else you think is important, what would be your top five tips for promoting mental health with gaming? ?

  1. Make sure you are having a good time! I used to play competitively, and I got to the point where I was tired, exhausted, and not enjoying my gaming. If you’re not getting what you want from your gaming (eg, relaxation, hanging out with friends, a sense of accomplishment), take some time to reflect and reevaluate.
  2. Eat a varied sports diet. I love trying new games and different types of games. Video games, board games, card games, role-playing games… there’s so much to experience.
  3. If you’re a parent, play with Your child my team does pokemon go Together as a way out of the house. We also play Sonic and Mario and other games that my 6-year-old can play, and it’s a great way to bond as a family, as well as teach things like perseverance (it’s okay, kids, Try again!), teamwork, and creativity.
  4. It’s okay to like what you like, even if someone else doesn’t. Gaming has some problems with gatekeeping around terms like “casual gamer” or “hardcore gamer”, hinting that some games are not real games. Play what you love and ignore the haters.
  5. Find time to play in your life. Just because we get older doesn’t mean we outgrow our need for play and entertainment. Your worth is not dependent on your productivity, so make time for frivolity, silliness, and playfulness.

Follow Dr. Kelly Dunlap on Twitter With a mental health bent for more gaming content.

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