Can Playing Video Games Improve our Mental Health?

Since the age of 18, I’ve been living with anxiety and depression. It started when I left for University. I ignored it at first, chalking it up to homesickness. It wasn’t until I couldn’t leave my bed one morning to hand in an essay that I knew I had a problem. These days, I can manage my mental health well enough through good food, sleep, exercise, and medication, with the odd flair-up here and there. I know I’m not alone, though. During the Coronavirus pandemic, the number of U.K adults experiencing depression doubled.

I’ve always taken a lot of pleasure and comfort from gaming, and I know a lot of other people do, too. But is it just another vice we use to escape reality and suppress our emotions? Researchers don’t think so: A recent Oxford University study found that playing video games can be good for your mental health. The paper focused on two all-ages games, Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Plants Vs Zombies. Using accurate play-time data provided by Nintendo and EA, academics found that people who play more video games report greater well-being.

Like many others, I bought Animal Crossing when it released at the beginning of lockdown. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. For a few hours a day, my partner and I could escape to a luscious desert island, swim in the sea and visit our friends, when all this was impossible in the real world. Games do provide us with an escape from reality, but they also help us keep in touch with it. I had more phone calls in one month with my friends than I would normally in a whole year. Whether we were comparing the latest Turnip prices or catching up over party chat at our weekly Fortnite match, it kept us connected.

Video games are often accused of causing psychological harm and I don’t doubt that some people can become addicted. It’s refreshing then to hear the good that gaming can do us, and like all good things in life, it’s about everything in moderation.

What are your experiences of mental health and gaming? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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