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Gaming and my mental health

Playing video games where we can live in a world that we control, without the worry of Coronavirus, can let us forget the gloom of reality and enjoy a space where we’re free to explore, meet friends and be creative.

Claudia playing video games

Hi, I’m Claudia, I work for Solent Mind and I love video games. 

I got my first console when I was about 6 years old, a Super Nintendo (SNES), on which I played a lot of Mario and got frustrated at the difficulty level of the Lion King. I have a happy memory of my family crowding around the TV to watch me play for the first time. As a hobby I’ve collected a fair few retro consoles over the years, and I enjoy PC gaming too. Some of my all-time favourite games are Stardew Valley, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Sims 3 and the Mass Effect trilogy. I found it really hard to narrow that list down!

I’ve also had my share of mental ill-health. In the past I’ve struggled with an eating disorder and after managing it for years these thoughts resurfaced due to lockdown, not being outside as often and putting on weight due to exercising less.

I’ve also had severe bouts of depression for which I received Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Regularly my mental ill-health shows as overwhelming feelings of anxiety and over-thinking. I manage this by learning about mental health conditions and helping others, I’m a Time to Change Employee Champion and am training to become a Mental Health First Aider, as well as making lists, practicing Mindfulness and reducing my stress levels – usually with gaming.

As someone who loves video games I’ve often found it disheartening to read news articles about how they are thought to negatively impact people’s lives, as the opposite is true for me. However recently we’re starting to hear more about how video games can have a positive effect on wellbeing, especially during lockdown.

Playing video games where we can live in a world that we control, without the worry of Coronavirus, can let us forget the gloom of reality and enjoy a space where we’re free to explore, meet friends and be creative. 

They are providing critical at-home entertainment during a time when we’re limited in ways to de-stress and have fun.

For example, Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch has sold over 31 million copies since its release in March 2020. In this game you live on your own virtual island where you can buy a house, go fishing, go to a museum and invite your friends over to visit. This type of life simulation has come at a time when a lot of people are feeling anxious or lonely due to being unable to visit family and friends in the real world, and this game allows you to do things online that you’re simply unable to do under the current Government restrictions.

Multiplayer games like this are providing the social contact that people are missing during isolation. To share a couple of my personal experiences: I felt low when the second lockdown arose and I was unable to see my best friend at Christmas as she lives in Peterborough and wasn’t allowed to travel. Instead, we each put on our Oculus Quest Virtual Reality headsets and sat in a computer-simulated lounge where we were able to talk and play games as though we were in the same room as each other. We were even able to take a bus tour through Paris and ride over beautiful scenery in a hot air balloon together, experiences that we’re unlikely to do in real life. We now regularly meet up in VR and afterwards I feel as happy as I would have if we’d met up face to face.

Before lockdown I would habitually invite my friends over to play Dungeons & Dragons which is a fantasy tabletop role playing game, played using books, dice and your imagination. 

We would have wonderful afternoons in imaginary lands having lots of fun and laughs, working together to beat the bad guys. Over the last year my friends and I have dearly missed this time spent together, and it has had an adverse effect on my mental health. A colleague recommended Divinity: Original Sin II which is very similar to Dungeons & Dragons but in video game form, meaning we have the opportunity to recapture our entertaining afternoons by playing on computers with headsets, bringing back a semblance of routine and normality to support my wellbeing.

In a Psychology Today article in 2015, Peter Gray PH.D summarised research which found evidence of lasting positive effects of video games on cognitive functions like perception, attention, memory, and decision-making. We’re starting to recognise that gaming can have beneficial outcomes on our mental health, and the same can be said for our physical health. Fitness games have been available for many years, you probably remember the boom of Nintendo’s Wii Sports and Wii Fit which were celebrated for encouraging older generations to be more active via gaming. This has influenced game developers so that today we have many options available on all gaming consoles, whether you enjoy dancing, Zumba, Yoga or boxing, to name a few, you’ll find a video game that gives you this experience.

With gym closures throughout the country, games such as Kinect Sports Rivals and Shape Up on Xbox One bring you sports competitions and workouts at home, Beat Saber is a dynamic sweat-inducing rhythm game on PlayStation VR, as well as Ring Fit Adventure on the Nintendo Switch for indoor jogging and aerobics. These fitness games can be invaluable tools for the many energetic gym-goers who find fitness a key part of their mental and physical wellbeing.

There’s a lot to be said for the various ways that video games can bring us happiness and satisfaction, if we can just find the right game that appeals to us as an individual. It’s estimated that there are over one million video game titles currently available on PCs, consoles and mobiles, and approximately 49 different genres. With such a staggering amount available, why not see if there’s a video game out there that can help to improve your mental health?

Solent Mind's top tips for Gaming well

Set a Time Limit
Gaming is addictive, but make sure you are playing in a healthy way. If you begin to spend all your time gaming, it may have a negative impact on your mental health instead. Set a time limit of a couple of hours max each day, so you can stop and undertake other activities as well. 

Take regular breaks
While gaming, try setting a reminder every 30mins to allow you to move away from the screen, stretch your body and rest your eyes.

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