Video games get a bad rap. We’re told staring at screens for too long can ruin our sleep, hurt our eyesight, and stunt our social lives. Not to mention, violence in action-oriented video games—like Call of Duty or War of Warcraft—can make people more likely to have aggressive outbursts IRL. Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in eastern and western countries: a meta-analytic review. Anderson CA, Shibuya A, Ihori N. Psychological bulletin, 2010, Jun.;136(2):1939-1455.
Even with these potential downfalls, gaming is increasingly used as a therapy for people struggling with mental health problems, like anxiety and depression. Here’s what we know thanks to preliminary studies:
- Games don’t have to be complex to help. You don’t need an immersive, role-playing game to escape, zone out, and feel less anxious. Simplistic games, like Angry Birds, can help boost your mood and make you feel more relaxed. The benefits of playing video games. Granic I, Lobel A, Engels RC. The American psychologist, 2013, Dec.;69(1):1935-990X.
- Playing games motivates us. And that’s very important when we’re depressed. “Gaming is the neurological opposite of depression,” says author and well-known gamer Jane McGonigal in an interview with The Long and Short.
- Developers have already designed games to treat mental health problems. Sparx, for example, is a role-playing game that helps promote positive affirmations through the interactions players have within the game. In a small study, all gamers saw a drop in negative thoughts after playing it. The effectiveness of SPARX, a computerised self help intervention for adolescents seeking help for depression: randomised controlled non-inferiority trial. Merry SN, Stasiak K, Shepherd M. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 2012, Apr.;344():1756-1833.
(h/t The Long and Short)