As Recovery Unplugged observes 2020 National Video Game Day, we can’t help but flip the script on how the world views the relationship between video games, addiction and mental health. Like everything else in 2020, it’s hard to look at gaming without considering its relationship to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve all been taught to believe that too much gaming can leave our brains resembling something like Slimer from Ghostbusters, but the reality is that they have emerged as a way to build community and maintain connection with friends and family during a time when it’s incredibly difficult to even be near one another. They’ve also given us healthy distractions and a sense of temporary control in a time when it’s sorely lacking in other areas of our lives.
Video Games in Addiction and Mental Health Recovery
For those in recovery, the sense of support, community and diversionary entertainment provided by video games can be a recipe for balanced mental health when other means of support are lacking or have become less accessible. A few months ago, Recovery Unplugged’s very own Joseph Gorordo was featured in the New York Times discussing how he and his clients have been using the game Animal Crossing to stay connected during mandatory social distancing in Austin, TX, where the pandemic continues to rage, despite early signs of progress: “On Sunday night, I got onto my island, I opened it up, within an hour I had four friends, two colleagues, and two clients in recovery who were all hanging out on this island and having a mini support meeting,” he said in the piece.
Since then, Joseph has regularly used video games as a means of supplemental support in a time when it can be hard to access direct face-to-face care; and he isn’t the only one to recognize their value in long-term mental-health recovery. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs reports multiple studies that show the positive benefits of video games for PTSD, a condition commonly linked to addiction in both military and civilian populations.
Other Mental Health Benefits of Video Games
Moderate engagement with video games offers a variety of mental health benefits, including but not limited to:
- Improvement of Mood
- Sense of Control and Accomplishment
- Stress and Anxiety Reduction
- Sense of Community (for Online or Multiplayer Games)
- Enhanced Motor Skills and Cognitive Ability
The American Psychological Association reports that gaming can provide learning and socialization benefits in certain situations. Video games have also been linked to improved vision, management of dyslexia, improved leadership skills, heightened interest in history and even the easing of certain types of pain. Among the most surprising therapeutic applications of video games, however, were findings that they helped surgeons make less mistakes and improved balance in multiple sclerosis patients.
Everything in Moderation
While the American Psychiatric Association doesn’t recognize video game addiction as a legitimate mental health issue, there is ample evidence to suggest that they can become addictive. Like all other generally healthy therapeutic techniques, Recovery Unplugged urges all to play responsibly and use video games as therapy rather than an obsessive pursuit. Temper your gaming with other activities, like art, music fitness and, when appropriate, just doing nothing.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, video games can be part of a comprehensive self-care plan that allows you to continue to live a rich and full life connected to the people you care about. If you find yourself struggling with addiction, Recovery Unplugged is open and ready to get you the care you need. Happy National Video Game Day. Game on!