For a long time, there have been misconceptions about gamers, gaming culture, and video games’ influence on our minds. Gamers were considered lazy, disconnected from reality, and negatively impacted by the virtual universes they tapped into. However, thanks to recent advancements in psychology, video games are finally being recognized for their potential. They offer unlimited entertainment, and can be good for us, too!
When played as a hobby, video games are healthy. A recent pediatric study in the US compared the mental development of children who played video games at least 21 hours a week to those who didn’t play at all. The study concluded that children who played games had better cognitive performances. Gamers improved their memory, behavior control, and overall cognitive function.
BGN would like to take the argument a step further. Video games are not just good for our wits but our wellness too! When used mindfully, they help us cope with one of the top causes of death in the United States: stress.
What Is Stress? How Do We Manage It?
Stress is your body’s natural reaction to change or pressure. Creative arts therapist Jenny Lee defines stress as anything that causes a “mental, physical, or physiological disruption to our well-being.”
When left unchecked, stress can have a HUGE impact on the mind and body. In extreme cases, stress can break us down to the point of fatality, earning its nickname of “the silent killer.” With stress at an all-time high, it’s crucial to understand what stress is and how we can manage it.
Experts agree that exercise, engaging in fun activities, connecting with people, and keeping your mind present are healthy ways to manage stress. Video games check three out of four of these boxes, and––games like Just Dance and Dance Dance Revolution–– can satisfy our need for exercise, too!
The Psychology Of Gaming
When you play a video game, whether it’s Subway Surfers, Minecraft, or Call of Duty, your mind enters a meditative state of flow known as the zone. When you’re in the zone, you’re completely engrossed in the activity, losing all perceptions of space and time. This mental state gives us the same perks as meditating: it relieves our brains of outside stressors and allows us to be in the moment. Before you know it, the only thing you have to worry about is nailing the perfect button combo that’ll take you to the next level.
In addition to being a fun distraction to our chaotic lives, video games can also be a healthy outlet for negative emotions allowing us to take our frustrations out on our opponents rather than our peers.
Gaming Is Enjoyable
On a basic psychological level: playing video games is enjoyable. Who doesn’t like getting lost in a virtual world where their imagination can run wild? We’re not just stating the obvious here; there’s a scientific reason.
Just like with any other hobby, anytime you indulge in something fun, it naturally boosts your mood, giving you feelings of happiness and euphoria. That’s thanks to a little chemical called dopamine.
When you experience pleasure, whether it’s from food, sex, or first-person shooters, you’re actually experiencing a surge of dopamine. Experts at Healthdirect.gov.au describe dopamine as “a chemical released in the brain that makes you feel good.” This sensation of satisfaction can be rewarding. Before you know it, you’ll be too busy fighting off hoards of zombies to think about whatever was stressing you out.
Gaming Gives Us A Sense Of Accomplishment
While you’re riding that high from all the trophies you’ve unlocked on your PS5, you’re also experiencing a healthy form of stress. That’s because video games present challenges, giving us problems, puzzles, and tasks that sharpen our minds, improve our memories, and give us the practice we need to rise to the occasion in emergency situations.
These challenges are not just good for brain function, they’re also fulfilling. People naturally crave challenges. It’s one of several things that motivates us naturally. When we overcome challenges, we’re rewarded with a sense of accomplishment which is great for our overall well-being.
Just think about how good you feel when you beat a level you’ve been stuck on for days or finally defeat a boss after his third health bar pops up out of nowhere. Doesn’t it make you feel happy? Relieved? Accomplished?
That triumphant feeling of overcoming a difficult challenge will make you feel like a boss. With that natural boost of pride and self-esteem, you’ll feel empowered and ready to take on new challenges, too blessed to be stressed.
Gaming Is A Bonding Experience
While gaming is great for us personally, it also helps us bond with others, offering companionship from the comforts of our homes.
Gaming together is a love language allowing you to connect with people over a mutual love which gives you a sense of community (highly recommended for managing stress.) Although chillin’ with a friend in person is ideal, when you link up with your party in an MMORPG or challenge a friend to 3 v 3 in Marvel VS Capcom you’re creating a connection. You are strengthening a bond by spending quality time with people you like doing something you love.
Video game culture sparks connections all the time. It’s not uncommon for games to create relationships that last a lifetime, giving you a safe space to have fun and be worry-free, if only for a little while.
A Few Things To Keep In Mind
If you’re turning to a game to relieve stressss, it is important to set intentions. How we’re using it is just as important as why. We know gaming habits can become borderline addictive, thanks to the rewarding feeling we get from the rush of dopamine, which can make it hard to unplug. How exactly can we tell the difference?
During a phone interview with Black Girl Nerds, expert Jenny Lee explained that the fine line between stress relief and addiction is a matter of control and self-discipline “like all things in life, too much isn’t really good for us. The question is: at what point are we in control of it, and at what point is it in control of us?”
Jenny says that although there’s nothing wrong with tapping into your favorite game to let off some steam, gamers should be careful not to become co-dependent. “If we allow time to play games, are we able to stop at the time we allowed ourselves to? If not, and now it’s disrupting other areas of our life: work, family, other relationships, our well-being, then at that point, I believe it has control of us.”
Gaming Is More Than Meets The Eye
When used as a tool, gaming is a fun, healthy way to escape reality for a little while and take a break from whatever is stressing you out. If you need help managing stress, consider dusting off that SNES controller and finally getting past that level in Donkey Kong Country. And the next time someone tells you to hang up your gaming hobby, you can tell them you have science on your side.
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Kaillaby is a writer from The Bronx with infectious high energy and a passion for geek culture. She loves connecting with Blerds like herself and hopes to create her own cartoon someday.