Video games often get a bad rap for zapping productivity, causing anxiety and imparting the wrong sort of wisdom. There is no denying video games can have a negative effect on some parts of life. But there may be positives associated with gentle gaming, particularly for people suffering from mental illness.
Humans are of course social creatures, and to progress as a society, we use various forms of communication to help us understand what came before, where we are, where we are going and of course attempt to predict the future. Early wall art and carvings tell much about our past as well as beliefs and behaviours.
Video games are no different, if anything, not only do they imitate life and current behaviour but aspirations. One thing they all have in common is a natural tendency to spin a yarn or two which comes from the age-old pastime of storytelling.
When afflicted by mental illnesses such as depression, Bipolar and especially OCD, routine and contentment can often be removed from life. It can be difficult to find a straightforward way of thinking when repetitive thoughts and actions take control. Thoughts overwhelm the senses lacking orientation and order, more so when they are unexpected – leaving the mind in disarray. This destroys rhythm and disrupts ideas of normal choices, household travel and breathing patterns which in turn leads to higher levels of stress.
When immersed in video games, however, things change.
Video games offer many avenues to help stimulate brain activity and storytelling is one of many. Narrative is a key component for video games and without it, modern gamers lack structure to continue using them. So what are the other benefits?
One study used Ninendo’s Super Mario 64 to specifically assess if there is a connection between 3-dimensional gaming and brain growth. The study showed that after 2 months, users were able to grow hippocampal grey matter, a tissue used by the brain for memory building. A loss of grey matter contributes to diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Sufferers of OCD experience bouts of short-term memory loss, most likely due to an overwhelm of distressing thoughts/feelings, and are less likely to have high amounts of grey matter.
The study means playing video games (specifically 3D games) may combat mental illness and that gaming may provide psychological benefits for all, especially sufferers.
Another advocate for gaming and mental health, Jane McGonigal, a game designer and author, explains it has other benefits, such as…
“…real sense of optimism in our abilities and our opportunities to get better and succeed, and more physical and mental energy to engage with difficult problems,”
There are a host of other benefits gaming can bring to your life including problem solving, fitness, motor skills and story recognition. So instead of sitting there twiddling your thumbs, why not use them to better your brain!