Video games have become an increasingly vital form of entertainment for many people over the past year. They’re immersive in a way that TV and books aren’t, and often engage that part of your brain that ends up scrolling aimlessly through social media instead of relaxing. As we were all at home, desperate for entertainment, video games filled a void.
This is not only true for the 10 hours-Halo– marathon set, either. Casual gambling is also on the rise. People who gamble for stress relief, rather than making gambling a crucial part of who they are, are joining the ranks in droves. According to a recent Nielsen Report, more than half of U.S. residents played video games in 2020, and the industry as a whole earned nearly $ 140 billion in the year, an increase of $ 20 billion from the year before.
The question is: is this a good thing? We have all seen the ridiculous and fear-mongering articles about the effects of video games on children. But surely at a time when stress and anxiety are rampant, relaxing with low intensity play must be a godsend for an adult’s mental health. Law?
It is certainly one of those “ask a friend” situations. Things are difficult at the moment. I try to juggle full time work and unstable babysitting, so between weather closures and illness, I’m lucky if I do a full day or two of work per week. I have given up pretty much all of my usual stress relief activities, but I find gambling the one I miss the most. And it makes me wonder if the times when I don’t have time to play video games are when I need them the most.
That’s not to say that the games themselves don’t bring their own anxieties. They do. Fighting games, shooters, very difficult and challenging titles – I would never describe them as stress relievers. But for now all I want to do is curl up with my Switch and play the new Stardew Valley update that just hit. Or maybe Alba: a wildlife adventure, a sweet game from ustwo in which players run around an island, take pictures of birds, and try to stop a developer who is trying to turn a local nature reserve into a giant hotel. It’s super relaxing, and it’s just kind, caring, and caring like I need right now.
But just because feels well doesn’t mean he’s doing anything to improve my mental health. Escape can be a great thing, but when used to avoid facing problems and dealing with negative emotions (as opposed to reducing stress and anxiety levels), it is not. healthy in the long run. In recent years, there has been a lot of research on the effects of video games on children; not so much for adults. But it changes. Take, for example, the results of a 2019 National Institutes of Health study which found that video games can reduce symptoms associated with depression, while also warning that violent video games can cause adrenaline spikes. (These levels quickly return to a baseline after the player puts down the controller.) More recently, a study published last week in the peer-reviewed journal Royal Society Open Science found “a small positive relationship between play and emotional well-being” for gamers Animal Crossing: New horizons and Plants vs. Zombies.
As video games become more and more mainstream, it’s likely that we’ll see more and more scholarships on the links between gambling and mental health. The peer-reviewed journal Health games focuses closely on these topics and a recent article gathered the findings of several reports examining the effects of “simple, easy-to-use, casual video games” (think Plants vs. Zombies, Bejeweled 2, and Sushi Cat 2) on stress, anxiety and general mental health. Of the 13 studies reviewed, 12 showed positive results for those who play games. “All of the studies that have looked at mood and stress have noted significant improvements compared to a passive break, web surfing, or relaxation activity,” the article concludes.