VIDEO GAMES – GOOD OR BAD?
With gaming getting the blame for pretty much every violent crime that occurs it’s only fair that it should also be given the credit it deserves for the benefits it can bring. I have seen first hand the benefits of gaming and how it can aid mental health sufferers in different parts of their daily lives. Gaming and the community that comes with it can not only help mental health sufferers but also physical ailments too. In this article I’m going to go over just a few ways that I have seen gaming aid those suffering today.
Mental health disorders can come in varying forms, depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders and loneliness to name a few. It’s a broad statement from me to say that gaming can benefit all these mental health disorders, but I truly believe that it can. Gaming can be used in many ways to benefit people, I’m not saying that sitting down and playing a round of Fortnite will cure your anxiety, but what I am saying is used in the right way it can benefit certain individuals that suffer from mental health issues.
Take depression as one example, people with this mental illness can suffer from no self-esteem, empty, numb to any stimulus and suicidal, and they find it difficult to explain to people how they are feeling and why they are feeling this way. However, through the gaming community there are multiple games that explain to people how depression feels. This medium has allowed people to communicate their innermost feelings to others in a way that’s never been used before. When reading a book, you’re aware that you’re reading another person’s story, when watching a film there is a disconnect between you and the character in the story, but with a game, you control the character. You are forced to see the world through this character’s eyes and act through them. This allows people who have difficulties speaking out use games as a story telling mechanism. It gives those who are suffering a voice. A great game that uses storytelling to showcase how those who have certain mental health conditions are suffering is Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. This game allowed others to delve deep into a world of psychosis and trauma. It gave those playing a glimpse into what others are dealing with on a daily basis and it allowed those suffering to showcase to the world a dramatised version of what their daily life is like.
Not only can games help with telling people about mental illness, but it can also directly help those suffering. Take social anxiety as an example here. Those who suffer with social anxiety have multiple different symptoms but the main ones being a feeling of doom when around people, heightened or irregular heartbeat, sweating, feeling sick and intrusive thoughts. Social anxiety isn’t just about not wanting to be around people, it can be as simple as constantly asking those who love and care for you if they hate you, because the intrusive thoughts told you so, or even getting panic attacks when the phone rings. Many of those that suffer with social anxiety play story driven one player games which allow them to live in another world and take a step back from the thoughts they are having. However, one game helped those suffering recently in such an unprecedented way. Pokemon Go.
This simple augmented reality game allowed users to walk around their neighbourhoods catching critters using their smart phone. When this game was introduced I immediately downloaded it and started to “Catch Em All”. What I found was that I wasn’t the only one, dozens of us would gather at pokestops to drop lures and catch pokemon. Naturally, because we all had something in common we would start talking and comparing pokemon collections. We’d talk about the pokemon games and movies, what was our favourite, and eventually groups started to form. “Pokehunting” parties would arrange get togethers where people would come out in droves to catch an illusive Chansey or Snorlax. After talking with people, it was clear that I wasn’t the only one suffering with social anxiety. However, because of the distraction of the game, and the fact that we all had the same thing in common, my symptoms slowly started to disappear. I would start to look forward to Pokemon Go get togethers with people I had never met before. Eventually this started to seep into my life outside of Pokemon Go, I was able to meet with friends and family and enjoy my time with them. I started going out to dinner, I enjoyed social events more and over time, my social anxiety had disappeared.
For those with physical ailments there are charities and companies out there that help make their lives better. Through specifically designed hardware children and adults can take a break from their difficult lives and simply enjoy a game. One charity helping children in the UK is Special Effect, they design controllers and hardware that helps children enjoy games and helps them in being “kids” again.
Video games are great tools to help those suffering in silence. Through storytelling, they can convey messages others are unable to. As technology ever expands we can literally step into the shoes of those suffering by using VR. Those who are suffering can simply place an oculus rift and step away from the world that is causing them harm. VR allows them to be transported to a completely different plane where they can relax and breathe, away from all the stresses of the mental or physical ailment they are having to deal with. Alongside hardware such as heart rate monitors and iris scanners who knows how much the gaming industry will help those in the future?
Games themselves are a great tool to help those suffering, but it’s not only the games that help, it’s also the people. Youtube and Twitch Let’s Play personalities have become more and more active in holding charity livestreams where they will play games for hours on end raising money for multiple charities. One well known Youtuber and Twitch streamer named JackSepticEye holds monthly charity live streams raising money for a new charity each month. Each month he smashes his goal that he sets at the beginning of the stream and throughout 2018 he has so far raised over $700,000 for charities all over the world. If this doesn’t show how gaming can not only bring people together but also be a positive force for good I don’t know what will.
As a gamer I am proud to be a part of a community that is so willing to help others that are suffering. Games allow us to take a step away from the real world and enjoy an adventure away from the stresses and strains of life. In moderation, I believe that games can not only help those suffering but can also be used hand-in-hand with other techniques to cure mental illnesses. Alongside games comes the community that surrounds them and I understand that some people will say that there is a “toxic” culture but I believe that when we all come together we are a positive force not only for each other but also for those that aren’t able to play games to ease their suffering.