How Video Games Benefit My Mental Health

Written by Linda

“Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.”
― Ernest Cline, Ready Player One

Rolling verdant hills and swaying summer grass, hypnotic and stretching further than the eye can see, with fauna galloping in the distance and even dragons soaring across the blue; mythical creatures, ancient magic, and grand destinies – every night I pause my responsibilities to visit a different reality – the worlds of video games.

Gallivanting across the scenic worlds of my favorite games such as “Nier: Automata” and “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”, incinerating battle-scarred fiends with fireballs, cutting down colossal and sentient machines with fortified swords, with my avatar’s heels crunching gravel across the war-torn and post-apocalyptic land, with the thrilling burst of metal on metal in the clash of weapons and ideologies, and not to forget the captivating soundtracks that fully immerse you in the ambiance – gaming is like going on a vacation. Vibrant and diverse adventures await me, to be embarked anytime on a solo journey or in collaborative ventures with friends.

In so many ways, gaming is liberating. Sure, from an outsider’s view it looks like that I’m sequestered in my room with my ass planted for hours in front of my computer, as I explore realms that are actually bits of code and do not really exist.

But gaming is more than that. It isn’t just for entertainment or to fulfill escapist fantasies; it’s about immersion and world expansion – we augment our real-life experiences with these digital extensions that open our eyes to new possibilities, ideologies, and resonating lessons, while cultivating ourselves (or alternate versions of ourselves) in-vitro via in-game avatars that develop and grow linearly (usually) in our intended directions. Games challenge you, push your buttons, and allow you to be creative in your approaches to solving problems. In many ways, playing games is empowering.

That’s just the solo-player aspect of gaming; when you include collaborative multiplayer games in the mix, your experience is expanded that much more. Barring the obvious issues of conflict and even toxicity that may arise when many people are involved in a competitive setting – multiplayer gaming has been a boon in broadening my network (making new friends, getting to know friends better through teamwork) and developing as a person (games teach perseverance and competitive banter help develop thicker skin).

These are basic overviews of how gaming (in moderation) can be beneficial to the average player.

However, I’m not an average player, in the technical sense of the word. Video games have an even more profound significance to me because – here’s where it gets honest and personal – I am a person with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

I struggled with these disorders for as long as I can remember. Without delving into too much detail, daily hurdles are much more difficult for me and even slight conflicts or unexpected events can trigger debilitating depressive episodes and psychoses that flare to unmanageable levels. There are days in which the symptoms become incapacitating and I have to cancel plans, turn away from responsibilities, and stay in bed all day – not because I want to wallow, but because I physically can’t do anything else.

Playing video games is significantly impactful in my journey to recovery because they break the cycle of negative rumination, that if left unchecked, quickly spirals to debilitating depression. Co-op games in particular, especially those that I play with my friends, are incredibly helpful in keeping me grounded, distracted (from depressive/anxious thoughts), motivated, and most importantly – happy.

Don’t get me wrong – I do not have a gaming addiction. I am a goal-oriented person who prioritizes productivity and I do have an outside life, things to do, and people to see. But every day I look forward to gaming at night; an exciting ritual that is comforting in its regularity – logging on every night to play with friends, working together to win (or to bungle the mission hilariously), catching up, engaging in banter, and cackling like idiots until the last of us goes to bed.

I have insomnia because my symptoms tend to get worse at night, but ending each day with these good-humored gaming sessions is therapeutic and I can sleep better.

Maybe I’m being overly sentimental about a form of entertainment, but gaming is impactful to me because of my conditions. The sense of community, camaraderie, and belonging that is reinforced and reassured by this hobby is exactly what I need to get better.

I guess what I really mean to say is that while I thoroughly enjoy being immersed in the gorgeous worlds and riveting lore of video games, what I love most is the real people I meet in them. You tend to meet people you vibe well with through co-op games and you connect with them by working together and even roasting each other for bungling missions.

There’s some deep symbolism there: co-op games drive home the fact that we’re all – universally – in this together, that no man is an island and we should pick up and push each other forward to our goals, even when those goals take many frustrating tries and failures to get there.