The festive period has flown by and we enter a new year full of promise and possibilities yet for some the January Blues make it hard to stay motivated or maintain an optimistic mindset. This time of year can be particularly challenging on our mental health.
Discourse on mental health has increased immensely in recent years. We are becoming more aware of our mental wellbeing and we are adopting coping mechanisms. Our mental health impacts numerous aspects of our lives; our relationships, our work and even our physical health. Therefore, we must value actions and behaviours that create a positive mental state.
For a number of years, the rise in diagnosis of mental health conditions has put a strain on available treatments leading to researchers investigating more effective and personal resources. Surprising to some, gaming (both serious and casual) is an avenue being explored by scientists with a shift in interest within research; exploring positive, as opposed to negative, correlations between gameplay and flourishing mental wellbeing. For a long period of time, research often focused on excessive gameplay or voilent tendacies from playing voilent games. However a 2021 article published within the JMIR Serious Games journal found a significant amount of scientific evidence that supports the prospect of gaming as a tool to improve mental health; notably amongst those who may not have access to other treatments.
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent among mental health conditions, particularly within children and adolescents. Numerous apps have surfaced, aiming to reduce anxiety for a variety of age groups; Super Better and Mindlight etc. Mindlight, for instance, is set in a dark mansion in which the user's flashlight shines brighter the more they are relaxed. This is assessed through monitoring their behaviours and whether they choose engaged or avoidant actions. In doing so, children are taught coping mechanisms and behaviours for anxiety from an early age.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of gaming’s ability to create communities. As social distancing and lockdown measures were implemented, we gravitated towards mobile forms of interaction and communication to satisfy our social needs. Statistics show that gaming increased globally by 39% in 2020 with roughly 60% of respondents playing more multiplayer games during the pandemic; highlighting the role of gaming as a substitute for face-to-face interactions within the most isolating of circumstances. As well as combating loneliness, gaming was found to be instrumental in providing people cognitive stimulation as we were made to adapt to life at home with an individual stating
"It’s a way to go out and explore, when I’m stuck inside."
Gaming brings along many benfitis. We can obtain a sense of control where our decisions and opinions matter within the virtual world. Gaming provides a space for users to unwind and escape the pressures of daily life. Furthermore, gaming can encourage us to look at different perspectives and reconsider how we approach issues. Interestingly, a study conducted by German and Dutch researchers found how even a short period of gaming can attenuate emotional responses such as frustration and anxiety. The study entailed a group of volunteers playing two rounds of Mario Kart directly after undergoing a Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test; a neuropsychological test designed to measure the effects of traumatic brain injury on cognitive functioning by assessing capacity and rate of information processing as well as calculation ability. The study discovered that all participants reported elevated feelings of happinesses after playing Mario Kart with recurring themes of competence and autonomy. Perhaps this can be accredited to the engaging nature of games as opposed to more passive forms of media. We are able to take control of the wheel, quite literally. Within games, we are rewarded for our hard work through badges, new levels and constructive feedback which motivates us to seek more positive stimuli.
As with many things, moderation is key. Whilst gameplay can be beneficial to our mental wellbeing, it is always important to know when to switch off and engage in other activities such as daily exercise, reading a book and enjoying others and even our own company. Research has previously presented the threat of excessive gameplay on our mental health. Whilst gaming can be a form of escapism, it can not replace our world offline. Perhaps setting a time allowance each day spent for gaming or a number of levels to complete can be the right step to creating a healthy balance.
At Game Doctor, we hope to work with scientists and organisations in the future to create games focusing on mental health. Research into serious gaming shows promising data on the impact gaming has on behaviour change and coping mechanisms for our mental wellbeing and this is data we wish to add to. I find it only fitting to finish the blog post with a reminder to do something for yourself today that makes you feel good; whether it be playing your favourite game, eating your favourite dinner or having a good night's sleep to start tomorrow fresh. Be kind to yourself.