Two guys sitting on a couch playing video games

Whether you're a casual player or a hardcore competitor, it's important to be aware of the potential effects gaming can have on your mental well-being.

Gaming is a pastime that has become an increasingly popular hobby among men of all ages. With the rise of technology and advancements in the industry, gaming has evolved from a simple hobby to a full-blown subculture, complete with professional teams, streaming platforms, and even online marketplaces for in-game items.

However, as with any activity, there are both positive and negative aspects to gaming, especially as it relates to mental health. For many men, gaming is a form of entertainment that can serve as a way to decompress from the stresses of everyday life and provide a sense of connection with other people. But for others, it can contribute to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression.

In this article, we’ll delve into the complex relationship between gaming and mental health and provide some useful tips to ensure that gaming is not having a negative impact on us. Whether you’re a casual player or a hardcore competitor, it’s important to be aware of the potential effects gaming can have on your mental well-being, and to learn strategies for coping with any negative impacts. 

We’ve teamed up with streamer Anthony Flick of SkybornTV to gain an authentic perspective on how gaming has impacted his mental health, highlighting both the benefits and drawbacks. Keep up with Anthony on Twitch and TikTok.

The Positive Impacts of Gaming

The gaming community has given me a home, a purpose, and the strength to face my mental health struggles head-on.” – Anthony

While news reports often focus on the negative aspects of gaming, there are benefits that gaming can provide. In particular, research studies have found that playing games can help people manage and reduce levels of stress.

  • Gamers self-report that playing video games helps them to lower their stress.[1] 
  • Systematic review studies have found that playing commercially available video games can help people relax and worry less.[2, 3]
  • Playing video games after work can help people recover from stressful work events, especially when those games are particularly immersive.[4]

High levels of stress and depression often go hand in hand, so working to reduce our stress levels can help us to better manage our depression. There are plenty of things we can do to manage our stress levels in a healthy way, such as exercise, meditation, and deep breathing. Gaming could be another tool to add to this toolkit. To learn more about how to manage your stress in relation to depression, see our stress management guide.

In addition to relaxing and lowering stress, video games have also been shown to offer cognitive benefits. These include:

  • Improved attention and visuospatial skills[5]
  • Faster processing speeds and quicker reaction times[2]
  • Improved memory abilities, especially when playing immersive, open-world games, such as Minecraft.[6]

From Character Building to Building Character

In addition to reducing stress and improving some cognitive skills, some types of gaming can also provide:

  • A sense of accomplishment, by completing progressively more difficult tasks or finding a new way to approach an in-game problem you’ve been stuck on.
  • Low-stakes opportunities to experience and overcome failure.

When depressed, it’s common to feel a sense of inadequacy or struggle to overcome emotional hardships. This can leave us feeling like we’re not making progress or accomplishing anything in our lives. Gaming can allow us to build emotional resilience in controlled situations and give us a safe space to practice overcoming setbacks. Studies have found that gamers report an increase in confidence in handling everyday life stressors after facing and overcoming challenges in games.[7, 8, 9] 

Social Benefits

The gaming community provided me with a true sense of confidence and identity. Having experienced bullying throughout my youth, I became introverted and extremely insecure. However, through gaming and immersing myself in the community, I discovered a refuge where I could escape and reshape who I was. This experience helped me cultivate a healthier and more confident version of myself.” – Anthony

Depression can make going out to a social event the last thing some guys want to do. In fact, social withdrawal is very common in men who are struggling with depression. 

One of the main benefits gaming offers is the opportunity to cultivate or enhance social networks and a sense of community. In a 2017 poll, half of all respondents reported that friendship was one of their biggest motivators for playing games.[10] 

Gaming provides a fun, low-stress way to stay in touch with friends and family, build a community of new friends, or find something new to do with a spouse or co-worker. 

Additionally, a survey study of over 2000 gamers found that those who played multiplayer games reported greater social relatedness and wellbeing in comparison to those that only played single-player games.[11] 

The Negative Side of Gaming

I’ve personally experienced that certain gaming environments, when approached with the wrong mindset, can have detrimental effects on mental and even physical health. It’s crucial for us as gamers to prioritize staying active and mindful to maintain our well-being.” – Anthony 

While there are some positive aspects to gaming, there are situations when playing can do more harm than good. These harms usually come from spending too much time playing games and neglecting the essential areas of our lives (sleep, diet, exercise, social life, etc.).

A good example of when gaming can be harmful to our mental health is when we use it as a means of escape from reality by spending hours most nights playing games in isolation. Increased time alone is a sign that depression is worsening, and escapism is a negative coping strategy that men may use to avoid the pain depression can cause. 

A few other downsides of gaming include:

  • Disrupting our sleep cycles
    • Often, when we first get into an exciting new game or are working hard to unlock a rare achievement, we can overdo things and play long into the night, disrupting our normal sleep cycles. This is unhealthy for many reasons and can be particularly bad for our mental health, with sleep disturbances being a very common symptom of depression, as well as being a significant risk factor for depression.
  • Inciting anger or increasing aggression 
    • While the link between violent game playing and real-life anger is not completely understood [12], some video games create environments that might lead to the gamer becoming increasingly frustrated and angry. 
  • Interfering with healthy eating 
    • When most of us picture a gamer, we don’t see them on their couch with a large bowl of greens, but instead a bag of chips and an energy drink. While this is more stereotype than truth, it is true that some men may opt for less healthy meals and more unhealthy snacking when playing games. [13] We might also get so involved in a game that we forget to eat and stay hydrated entirely.

Do Video Games Cause Depression?

While it’s clear that gaming has some negative side effects, it’s important to note that depression is not generally caused by just one thing, but is rather a complex disorder with many different contributing factors. There are no robust studies that have found a clear causal link between video games and depression.[14] 

However, just because video games don’t directly cause depression on their own, there are still important things to be aware of when it comes to their relationship to mental health and illness. Just like the consumption of alcohol, gaming can lead to harmful outcomes when done in excess, and too much gaming does correlate with impaired psychological functioning, including symptoms of depression.[14]

Things can even get bad enough where a guy can be diagnosed with what is known as Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD), which results from pervasive video game playing that causes significant impairment or distress in one’s day-to-day life.[15] One scientific review found that 89% of people diagnosed with IGD also presented with depressive symptoms.[16] While IGD is not the norm for most guys that regularly play video games, things do not have to be this extreme for game playing to have some negative impacts on our health.

Tips to Keep Gaming Healthy

While more research is needed to get better clarity on the connection between gaming and depression, there is clear evidence that video games can in some ways be detrimental to one’s mental health.

There are some key steps to take in order to reduce the risk of gaming negatively affecting our lives and our health. These include:

  • Setting limits on how many hours per day (and days per week) we play.
  • Ensuring that at least some of our game time is dedicated to multiplayer gaming in order to avoid becoming secluded and withdrawn from life.
  • Shutting off gaming devices an hour before sleep to avoid blue light exposure, which can disrupt our sleeping patterns [17], and to let our minds calm down before going to bed.
  • Setting limits on in-game purchases such as loot boxes.
  • Switching to games that are lower in stress if we find ourselves getting upset, especially if we know that we can struggle with anger at times. 
  • Swapping out unhealthy snacks for healthier choices when playing, and being proactive about having food/water nearby beforehand so we don’t forget to eat/drink while playing.
  • Taking regular breaks and getting up frequently to stretch and move about in order to break things up and reduce the total amount of time spent playing.
  • Being mindful of our emotions while playing. If we notice that we start to feel anxious, irritable, or tired, taking a break and doing something else that makes us feel good can be helpful. Remember to prioritize your mental health over in-game achievements.

Building more awareness around how we think about gaming can also help. For example, if most days at work we find ourselves thinking, “man, this job sucks, I just want to go home and game all night”, then this is likely a sign that gaming is taking up too much of our lives, and is serving as a harmful coping mechanism.

If gaming is taking up a majority of our mental energy, and preventing us from being social, maintaining our physical health, and/or interfering with us effectively managing daily life responsibilities, it is time to find someone to talk with about this, whether that’s a friend or a therapist.


References:

  1. Roy, A., & Ferguson, C. J. (2016). Competitively versus cooperatively? an analysis of the effect of game play on levels of stress. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 14–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.11.020  
  2. Pallavicini, F., Ferrari, A., & Mantovani, F. (2018). Video games for well-being: A systematic review on the application of computer games for cognitive and emotional training in the adult population. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02127  
  3. Pine, R., Fleming, T., McCallum, S., & Sutcliffe, K. (2020). The effects of casual video games on anxiety, depression, stress, and low mood: A systematic review. Games for Health Journal, 9(4), 255–264. https://doi.org/10.1089/g4h.2019.0132  
  4. Mella, J., Iacovides, I., & Cox, A. L. (2023). Gaming for post-work recovery: The role of immersion. Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. https://doi.org/10.1145/3544548.3581510  
  5. Palaus, M., Marron, E. M., Viejo-Sobera, R., & Redolar-Ripoll, D. (2017). Neural basis of video gaming: A systematic review. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00248  
  6. Stark, C. E. L., Clemenson, G. D., Aluru, U., Hatamian, N., & Stark, S. M. (2021). Playing Minecraft Improves Hippocampal-Associated Memory for Details in Middle Aged Adults. Frontiers in sports and active living, 3, 685286. https://doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2021.685286 
  7. Colder Carras, M., Kalbarczyk, A., Wells, K., Banks, J., Kowert, R., Gillespie, C., & Latkin, C. (2018). Connection, meaning, and distraction: A qualitative study of video game play and Mental Health Recovery in veterans treated for mental and/or behavioral health problems. Social Science & Medicine, 216, 124–132. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.08.044  
  8. Tichon, J. G., & Mavin, T. (2017). Experiencing Resilience via Video Games: A Content Analysis of the PlayStation Blog. Social Science Computer Review, 35(5), 666–675. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894439316664507 
  9. Zurita-Ortega, F., Chacón-Cuberos, R., Castro-Sánchez, M., Gutiérrez-Vela, F., & González-Valero, G. (2018). Effect of an Intervention Program Based on Active Video Games and Motor Games on Health Indicators in University Students: A Pilot Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(7), 1329. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15071329 
  10.  UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion. (2017). 2017 Sports Poll – Esports and Competitive Video Gaming. UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion. Retrieved from https://www.uml.edu/research/public-opinion/polls/2017/e-sports-gaming.aspx  
  11.  Hazel, J., Kim, H. M., & Every-Palmer, S. (2022). Exploring the possible mental health and wellbeing benefits of video games for adult players: A cross-sectional study. Australasian Psychiatry, 30(4), 541–546. https://doi.org/10.1177/10398562221103081  
  12.  Ferguson, C. J., Copenhaver, A., & Markey, P. (2020). Reexamining the Findings of the American Psychological Association’s 2015 Task Force on Violent Media: A Meta-Analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(6), 1423–1443. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691620927666
  13.  Soffner, M., Bickmann, P., Tholl, C., & Froböse, I. (2023). Dietary behavior of video game players and esports players in Germany: A cross-sectional study. Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition, 42(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41043-023-00373-7  
  14.  von der Heiden, J., Beate, B., Müller, K., & Egloff, B. (2019). The association between video gaming and psychological functioning. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01731 
  15.  American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
  16.  González-Bueso, V., Santamaría, J., Fernández, D., Merino, L., Montero, E., & Ribas, J. (2018). Association between Internet Gaming Disorder or Pathological Video-Game Use and Comorbid Psychopathology: A Comprehensive Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(4), 668. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15040668
  17.  Sollars, P. J., & Pickard, G. E. (2015). The Neurobiology of Circadian Rhythms. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 38(4), 645–665. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2015.07.003

THIS IS MEN'S HEALTH WEEK | JUNE 10-16TH, 2024

Men's Health Week takes place annually in mid-June, during the week preceding Father’s Day. The week is not just a campaign, but a call to action for men to take better care of their health and for communities to support men in this endeavour.

Men's Health Week 2024