Video games and depression

One way I cope with depression is video games, which some studies have noted can help improve social anxiety, depression and stress levels.  I wanted to elaborate on this one a bit.

First: I love video games.  And I mean I loooooove video games.  I can tie most major periods of my life to some sort of video game.  I still remember playing Halo 3 on Xbox live before I went out on my first date with my wife (the guys I was playing with wished me luck when I said why I was leaving for the night).  I remember Final Fantasy X before college graduation.  Skyrim when my son was first born, too little to move and would curl up on my chest while I slayed dragons.  My kids are named Auron and Ayla…bonus points if you can figure out what games those names came from.

I still remember being almost five, coming home from Heather Cohen’s birthday party, and my Dad leading me into our basement, where he gave me the most magical birthday present every: A Nintendo Entertainment System.

Video games have a special place in my heart.  As I grew older and began my journey with depression and anxiety, they offered a safe place and a retreat from reality.  I can see myself playing Grand Theft Auto 3 when I was going through a rough patch with my girlfriend at the time.  During the worst of my anxiety in college, again, it was Final Fantasy X. I still remember being a lonely, awkward middle schooler and just being obsessed with Tie Fighter, because it made me feel good at something.  In the Star Wars universe, no one cared that your hair wasn’t stylish, or that your forehead resembled a pepperoni pizza more than any normal persons should.  You just shot at the bad guys.  End of story.

That being said – that concept of escaping into a video game – is it a good thing?

Personally, I’ve had some experience with MMORPGs, but not a ton.  As much as I love video games, I don’t have enough time to truly enjoy them.  I’ve played my share of them – Warcraft in particular – but, as a newcomer, always found them to be too intimidating to really get into.  However, there’s no question about it – some people get into video games at the expense of real life.

On one hand, there is research with shows that video games can be helpful in reducing stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms.  They provide a creative outlet and a safe place to retreat to when the real world can get overwhelming.  Of course, that retreat can be toxic, which leads to the concept of video game addiction.

Now, to be clear, though there is no shortage of media reports about video game addiction, it is not yet an officially recognized disorder by any major medical governing body.  On an anecdotal level, I suspect that many of us know people who are way, way too into fantasy worlds, but that doesn’t mean they are “addicted,” per se.

I also think it’s worth noting that video games have never been an area free of controversy, and the conversation about whether or not games are addictive have been going on since Space Invaders.  So, clearly, this is a conversation that has gone on for quite sometime.

Are video games good or bad for mental health?
Like the answers to most perplexing questions, this one is evolving.  Video games have positive benefits on depression and anxiety, as far as I am concerned.  I’ve found them to be a safe retreat and a chance to temporarily escape the pressures of the real world.  In my opinion…again, just my opinion, not any medical advice…they can be great, but no different than any other hobby.  You use them briefly to recharge and recalibrate before launching yourself back into the real world.  The challenge, of course, is acknowledging when enough is enough.  For some people, that can be more difficult than others.

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