It is no secret that the video game industry often receives a mixed reputation. Thrill-based games like “The Last of Us Part 1” or “Resident Evil Village” often feature frightening monsters, gory scenes and weapons like grenades, guns or flamethrowers. Skill-based games like “Valorant” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” can be addicting as players quickly compete against one another. However, with so many different titles on the market, is it possible for gaming to provide health benefits?
Michea Oring, a marriage and family therapist trainee, said that gaming can have positive attributes, especially in a world full of deadlines and endless responsibilities.
“Video games can be beneficial in several areas including, but not limited to, reducing stress,” Oring said. “Cortisol, a stress hormone, can flood our bodies due to a number of factors, whether it be work, school, family, peers, romance, etc. This is where an activity like gaming can offer a healthy escape and relief from stress. An escape can be beneficial for the brain, allowing our bodies a moment to unwind or relax, and — dare I say it — have fun.”
While it is true that some games are designed to hype up players, there are certainly others with simplistic elements meant to soothe players. Depending on the genre of the game, slower-paced titles may offer calming features, from world exploration and relaxing music to the opportunity to perform therapeutic tasks.
Jonathan Mejia, junior English major, commented on how the atmosphere of a video game can be a significant factor in affecting his mood.
“Pokémon Legends: Arceus” for the Nintendo Switch is one game he often plays to help him relax.
“Catching Pokémon and seeing them interact in this near-open world is very soothing and adorable to observe,” Mejia said. “I think what I find relaxing about this game is the music. Some (songs) are very peaceful and some are adventurous, so it helps me get immersed in the game play.”
Aside from alleviating stress, video games may also function as a way to treat those who suffer from mental illnesses, including depression. This is because gaming also works as a medium that creates social environments for players, new and old, to connect.
“Gaming is a tool from which comes community, and thus social support, which is a huge benefit to those suffering from depressive symptoms,” Oring said. “Various games such as MMOs (massively multiplayer online), MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena) and FPSs (first-person shooter) all work together to cultivate online communities where people can connect and relate to one another via commonalities.”
Video games are also found to improve other areas of cognitive activity. Since gaming requires players to use a lot of repetitive motions, quick decisions, and even communication, it may also work as an opportunity for learning.
According to the journal “The Benefits of Video Games on Brain Cognitive Function: A Systematic Review of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Studies,” video game training could be beneficial for the brain’s frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, hippocampus, striatum and other areas. Video games cause significant changes in the structure and function of the brain area and ascend an individual’s sensory perception, attention, and memory capacity, and enhance the neural basis of individual brain function.
Besides mental well-being, it is commonly believed that video games can negatively affect one’s physical health. This is because most people often associate gaming with the stereotype that players spend hours on end sitting, increasing stagnant activity. However, the couch potato stigma is being broken. With how far gaming has developed with motion controls, this no longer seems to be the case.
“Games like ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ and others such as those found on consoles like the Nintendo Switch promote healthy physical activity,” Oring said. “Therefore, yes, physical benefits in correlation with video games may become more and more common,” Oring said.
With so many different styles of play and the wide variety of communities available, players will find that gaming may produce positive effects. From titles with mind-challenging puzzles to games with a relaxing atmosphere, there are many games out there capable of removing the stress and struggles one may face.