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How gaming can support mental wellbeing

Words by Smiley Team

We’re used to hearing horror stories about the negative impact that too much gaming can have on our mental health.

But a new study has found that playing certain video games has the potential to actually decrease depression and related issues.

Remember Pokémon Go? If you don’t, the interactive reality mobile game caught the world by storm in the summer of 2016, with people heading outside to catch Pokémon in the player’s real world locations.

It was widely praised at the time for getting people on their feet whilst gaming, and encouraging physical activity.

Now a study conducted by the London School of Economics has found that Pokémon Go’s release coincided with a significant decrease in mental health related internet searches. Fewer searches were made for depression-related terms such as 'depression', 'stress', and 'anxiety'.

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The university compared the amount of depression-related searches in areas that had access to the game and areas that didn't, and the difference was significant.

The study believes the reason Pokémon Go led to fewer depression-related searches is that location-based video games "encourage outdoor physical activity, face-to-face socialisation and exposure to nature”, things that tend to make people happier. The scientists involved were keen to stress that the findings only relate to those suffering from non-clinical forms of mild depression and not chronic or severe depressive disorders.

But the study does highlight the mental health opportunities of video games like Pokémon Go.

It's found that being out in nature, socialising face-to-face, and mild exercise can help alleviate symptoms of mild depression. And it's not the first time that video games have been linked to improved mental health.

In 2020, research conducted by the University of Oxford found that playing video games in moderation may improve your mental health and make you happier. Research conducted recently in Ireland found that the games “Minecraft” and “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” fostered social connectedness and reduced loneliness.

The researchers were investigating if video games could fill in existing gaps in mental health treatment, particularly for depression and anxiety.

And studies in the US, where participants played games such as Mario Kart and Plants vs. Zombies, experienced less anxiety than those who didn’t and simply took medication.

“The study is correct when it states that video games can be used to help effectively treat anxiety, depression, and social anxiety”, says Drew Lightfoot, a clinical director at Thriveworks Philadelphia.

Whilst this is good news and could potentially be utilised, Drew is keen to stress that accessible counselling and medication are still crucial.

“Video games can be a great addition to fill the gap, but they're not sufficient enough to be an alternative. The research documents the accurate representation of the difficulty for individuals to find and afford treatment, but video games should be an add-on—not an alternative.”

Inspired to act?

DONATE: Check Point is a charity that provides mental health resources for gamers and the gaming community. Support them now.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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