Video games help with depression

Do They Have Mental Health Benefits?

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

In this Article

  • Benefits of Video Games
  • Playing for Your Well-Being
  • Limits of Video Games as a Mood Booster

There are many misconceptions about video games and the impact they have on mental health. The truth is that video games have many benefits, including developing complex problem-solving skills and promoting social interaction through online gaming. Video games can be a great way to stimulate your mind and improve your mental health. 

Benefits of Video Games

Playing video games has numerous benefits for your mental health. Video games can help you relieve stress and get your mind going. Some benefits include: 

Mental stimulation. Video games often make you think. When you play video games, almost every part of your brain is working to help you achieve higher-level thinking. Depending on the complexity of the game, you may have to think, strategize, and analyze quickly. Playing video games works with deeper parts of your brain that improve development and critical thinking skills.

Feeling accomplished. In the game, you have goals and objectives to reach. Once you achieve them, they bring you a lot of satisfaction, which improves your overall well-being. This sense of achievement is heightened when you play games that give you trophies or badges for certain goals. Trying to get more achievements gives you something to work toward. 

Mental health recovery. Regardless of the type, playing games can help with trauma recovery. Video games can act as distractions from pain and psychological trauma. Video games can also help people who are dealing with mental disorders like anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Social interaction. Multiplayer and online games are good for virtual social interaction. In fast-paced game settings, you’ll need to learn who to trust and who to leave behind within the game. Multiplayer games encourage cooperation. It’s also a low-stakes environment for you to test out talking to and fostering relationships with new people. 

Emotional resilience. When you fail in a game or in other situations, it can be frustrating. Video games help people learn how to cope with failure and keep trying. This is an important tool for children to learn and use as they get older. 

Despite what people may think, playing video games boosts your mood and has lasting effects. Whether you’re using gaming to spend time with your friends or to release some stress, it's a great option. 

Playing for Your Well-Being

Playing video games has been linked to improved moods and mental health benefits. It might seem natural to think that violent video games like first-person shooters aren’t good for your mental health. However, all video games can be beneficial for different reasons.

Try strategic video games. Role-playing and other strategic games can help strengthen problem-solving skills. There’s little research that says violent video games are bad for your mental health. Almost any game that encourages decision-making and critical thinking is beneficial for your mental health. 

Set limits. Though video games themselves aren’t bad for your mental health, becoming addicted to them can be. Spending too much time gaming can lead to isolation. You may also not want to be around people in the real world. When you start to feel yourself using video games as an escape, you might need to slow down.

If you can’t stop playing video games on your own, you can contact a mental health professional.  

Play with friends. Make game time fun by playing with friends. There are online communities you can join for your favorite games. Moderate gaming time with friends can help with socialization, relaxation, and managing stress.  

Limits of Video Games as a Mood Booster

Video games stop being good for you when you play an excessive amount. More than 10 hours per week is considered “excessive.” In these cases, you may:

  • Have anxious feelings
  • Be unable to sleep
  • Not want to be in social settings

Another troubling sign is using video games to escape real life. As noted above, this type of behavior can lead to video game addiction, which then leads to other negative behaviors. Too much gaming can become a problem, but in moderation, it can do great things for your mental health.

Winning The Game Against Depression: A Systematic Review of Video Games for the Treatment of Depressive Disorders

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video games help treat anxiety and depression

June 18, 2021 17:46

Video games such as Team Fortress 2 and Mario Kart are an inexpensive and effective way to help alleviate a range of mental health problems. This conclusion was made by the specialists of the Research Center of the Science Foundation of Ireland Lero

A new study has disproved the conventional wisdom that video games harm social activity, lead to withdrawal, aggression, anxiety and feelings of loneliness. Fears in this regard only intensified with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people who found themselves in self-isolation were forced to reduce contact with the outside world.

According to the forecast of the World Health Organization (WHO), it is depression that will become the leader among diseases over the next ten years. Already today, more than 350 million people suffer from this disease on the planet. nine0003

Video games can help with mental illness. Moderate gaming is an inexpensive and effective way to "alleviate a range of mental health problems in the absence of, or in addition to, traditional therapies," Lero, a research center at the Science Foundation of Ireland, found.

The study highlights the benefits of commercial video games (as opposed to those specifically designed to treat depression and neurosis). Such games are widely available and relatively inexpensive, promote socialization and regulation of emotions, increase concentration and craving for new knowledge, and also have a beneficial effect on improving mental health in general. nine0003

Strategies, shooters, role-playing and casual games were named ideal for relieving depressed mood. In particular, Team Fortress 2, Mario Kart, Limbo, Rayman, and Candy Crush may be effective in treating mental illness. In general, the scientists concluded, games of any genre can alleviate the symptoms of many mental illnesses and improve the quality of life.

technologies depression psychological help games hi-tech news

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  • nine0048

    How video games help to avoid depression and develop useful skills

    November 19, 2015 Life

    Gamers can be proud of themselves: science has proven that games are good for our mind and consciousness. It turns out that with the help of such entertainment, one can reach notable heights in self-development. More importantly, video games stimulate our brain and minimize our chances of developing depression.

    "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," the main character of The Shining typed on a typewriter. Indeed, the concept of "work" is often seen as the antonym of the word "entertainment". However, recent scientific research has proven that the opposite of gaming is depression. nine0003 JD Hancock/

    This idea was first proposed by Brian Sutton-Smith, a scientist who devoted his life to studying the psychological aspect of the game. He became famous in the 1950s and 60s when he studied the influence of entertainment on children and adults. Sutton-Smith learned that while playing, people become more confident and energetic, and experience strong positive emotions. In fact, all this is a description of a state that is exactly the opposite of depression, when a person is incredibly pessimistic, especially about his own talents, opportunities and prospects. nine0003

    Sutton-Smith did most of his research long before scientists were using high-tech brain scan machines to track blood circulation and thus diagnose mental illness. He also worked without knowing that video games would take over our world.

    According to statistics, more than 1.23 billion people are addicted to computer games, but, most importantly, we now know what exactly goes on in the minds of these people.

    Over the past few years, there have been many studies using functional magnetic resonance therapy. The most notable of these was carried out by Stanford University, which "looked" into the minds of gamers.

    The results showed that when we play video games, two areas of our brain are constantly stimulated: the one responsible for motivation and the one that makes us want to achieve new goals.

    After all, during such entertainment, we are incredibly focused on the task. It doesn't matter if we are solving difficult problems, trying to find hidden objects, aiming for the finish line or scoring maximum points. Any of these goals completely captures our attention, motivates and forces us to focus. We expect that we will succeed - and the corresponding part of the brain begins to work actively, making us want to win. nine0003 JD Hancock/

    Meanwhile, all games (not just educational ones) are designed for people to learn. The first level is always simple, the player is easily drawn into the process, testing various action strategies and his own skills. With each level, the tasks become more difficult, and most games are designed so that the person continues to learn throughout the scenario.

    It is the acquisition of new experiences that is the key to the growing interest of the player, and this is the secret of the pleasure of video games. When nothing happens and you are not pushed to learn, the excitement is gone. The person stops playing. nine0003

    So, few adults like the classic "tic-tac-toe" - all the winning strategies have already been learned by heart.

    But as long as the game requires diligence and diligence from you, the hippocampus will be included in the process, and the player himself will enjoy the passage.

    JD Hancock/

    If you've ever wondered why, after failing the same level 20 times in a row in Angry Birds, you keep trying again and again, then there is a scientific explanation for this phenomenon. Such enthusiasm is the result of a neurological activation script. For non-gamers, this behavior may seem irrational and intrusive. But this is exactly the kind of steady state that one would expect from a person whose brain is completely focused on achieving the goal. In addition, after passing the level, the gamer becomes more confident, thanks to the knowledge and experience gained. nine0003

    And here's the most interesting thing: if a person is clinically depressed, two areas of his brain are understimulated, and these are the same regions that are well stimulated when we play video games.

    In a neurological sense, play is the exact opposite of depression.

    When the area of ​​the brain responsible for motivation is not active enough, we do not expect any rewards and success. As a result, we stop believing in ourselves, become pessimistic and lose the desire to do at least something. Small stimulation of this area of ​​the brain means that there is no active blood circulation in it. Thus, a prolonged state of depression or lack of motivation can lead to the fact that we lose the ability to learn. nine0003 JD Hancock/

    The most common interpretation of the research findings is that depression can be treated with video games. Apparently, those players who are in such a clinical condition can self-medicate with games. Gamers often experience a sense of relief, relief from depression symptoms, and enjoyment.

    But, of course, no one suggests treating depression with video games - this is a rather dangerous path. The player can distance themselves from their own problems or engage in suppression of unpleasant emotions.

    Learn more