Updated: Jan 24
It's no surprise that video games play a big role in the lives of Bay Area students. Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay Area are surrounded by technology and video games. Along with the pressure to perform, the economic stresses caused by the high cost of living, and wildfires in the summer, it's hard to catch a break. Video games offer a quick and accessible way to have fun, socialize, and be challenged.
There are fewer opportunities for connection and stimulation through school and activities, driving people to the fun and competitive world of video games. Everything is shifting online, including my own telehealth counseling practice, and they may stay that way even after we've gotten hold over COVID19.
1. Video Games Draw People In
Video Games Tap Into Our Needs: Video games particularly draw people who want to be challenged, competitive, and engaged in an activity that will meet their drive to learn, grow, and improve. People who want to be competitive can find it in a video game but maybe not in traditional institutions (like school or work).
There are many activities and opportunities to give a person that challenge they crave, but with COVID, our options have whittled down quite a bit. So, for now, video games can channel that drive to compete, be tactical, and be creative.
Video Games Provide Meaning:
It can be incredibly tough to have fun during a pandemic. Finding meaning and a mission in a video game can offer respite from a world that can feel like it's crumbling and meaningless at the same time. For those that are suffering, video games can offer the necessary experiences that make life worth living.
Video Games Offer A Safe Channel To Connect:
When people want to connect or have a conversation over the phone, it can be intimidating for some. But those same people will be open to an invitation to play a game while chatting on Discord or another communication channel, as they ease into the game and the conversation.
Video games can be that activity people invite others to, similar to watching sports, grabbing a coffee, or playing sports/board games. The activity is just a channel/medium for people to connect over while sharing an experience.
Video Games are a unique activity:
A person's video game/online habits are going to be unique based on their own personal needs and the video games they play. In my experience, video games are more immersive, more interactive, and give you more control than other activities like watching Youtube or Netflix.
An example would be the different experiences of watching a horror movie vs. playing a horror video game. I might feel creeped out and a little uneasy walking to my kitchen at night after watching a horror movie, but nothing gets me jumping and hiding my face like a horror game like P.T.
It’s very easy for your time to get sucked away by the system of rewards and punishments based on performance. When I die after a round of Apex, Destiny 2, Among Us, etc. I can quickly click to restart a fresh new round, without dropping a coin or paying a fee. If anything, I just get to keep pulling that lever or pushing that button on the slot machine for another round of fun. The only cost is our time and emotional investment.
The beauty behind a great game is that they hit the right combination of challenges, find characters/roles we get to be, and then give a gratifying reward boost at the end of an achievement.
Without a proper challenge and sense of accomplishment, games would lose their appeal. You can see this by how games let you adjust difficulty levels, give you just enough power-ups and weapons to have a fighting chance, and an epic finale (ex. boss battle) to top off your achievement.
2. Therapeutic Benefits of Video Games:
Self Development As a gamer, I love video games. I think video games provide many great avenues for people to relieve stress, build relationships, and explore their identity. As a therapist, I’ve embraced video games as a tool in my practice to help clients better express themselves and build communication, self-regulation, and social skills. Video game counseling has also unlocked the doors to trauma processing, allowing my clients to discuss their past traumas, role-play through difficult memories, and create nurturing moments with loved ones who passed away.
A lot of my work has been integrating video games into my therapy to help clients:
a) build healthier gaming and online habits
b) improve their mental health by using video games in session.
Video games can benefit people trying to improve their personal, career, academic, and relationship/family life. Video games are a great way for people who don't have the emotional vocabulary and communication skills to better express their thoughts, feelings, and needs.
When I was growing up, I was very quiet and withdrawn but found my voice of expression through sports like wrestling. Being able to show the world what I carried inside me was very liberating for me and helped to validate my strengths, leading to higher self-esteem and an ability to feel more comfortable around others.
What wrestling did for me is probably what video games are doing for many people out there, giving people an area to express the intensities and creativity they hold inside.
Activities and play, in all their forms, can be very therapeutic and beneficial for people struggling to find their voice.
Social Connection Personally, I still game with my friends, probably now more than ever. It's kept me in touch with my friends who've moved across the country and video games have helped us stay connected.
Especially with COVID19 and the physical distancing restrictions, I game with my friends who live in the same city as me. We stream our games with each other, sometimes play the same games, or just chat on Discord and share memes, articles, and music.
Most importantly, video games make it easier for us to open up and connect. It's a lot easier sending and receiving an invite to game over an invite to Facetime, call, or talk over Zoom. With video games as the shared activity, it's easier for us to meet up and open up.
Difficult To Find Activities To Replace Gaming:
With the isolation and worry from COVID19 shutdowns and the wildfires in the Summer, it was really hard to find new activities that could live up to the fun of video games.
Before the COVID19 shutdown hit, I found martial arts like wrestling and judo to be the stimulating game that helped me relieve my stress. However, once I was locked up in my home by COVID19 restrictions and wildfire smoke, I had my gym, my mat, and my sauna all taken away from me.
The closest thing to martial arts in terms of stimulation, competition, problem-solving activities, and social space, was video games. Now, I try to mix in a healthy dose of video games, cooking, weight lifting, meditation, and writing to keep me balanced but it's been difficult to stay consistent with my healthy habits. I imagine it's much harder for people to try something new and stick to it.
Building opportunities to fit in movement, physically distanced socializing, and being around nature daily can help relieve the build-up of stress and fatigue.
Video games are unique in that the technology is relatively new, it's becoming more widespread, people are playing them longer, earlier, and at more affordable rates. Video games are designed to keep people playing and garnering their attention to make awesome products.
It can be a great tool when you're alone, stuck in a toxic home environment, or surrounded by harmful people in your community that may discriminate, harass, and bully you for your differences (LGBTQ, race/ethnicity, gender, status, etc.)
Video games also satisfy that desire to be challenged, competitive, creative, and experience triumph. When a person lacks an avenue to get these desires fulfilled, it makes sense why gaming makes a big part of their life.
There are of course people who don't play a low amount of video games, who don't feel like they're meeting their life goals. While others may be hitting the ball out of the park and living a fulfilling life gaming many hours a day.
With video games, sometimes it’s less about quitting video games entirely and more about addressing the internal or external factors in your life causing you to avoid your troubles.
That's not to say taking a break from video games for a few weeks is a bad thing. I personally felt a difference when I got my gaming PC upgraded and couldn’t play games for a week and a half. That break did force me to attend to more things in my life that needed my attention, like my relationships and health (exercise, learning to cook healthier meals, etc.)
If you'd like to hear more about how I can help or my thoughts on the intersection of video games and mental health, feel free to send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If someone you love is having a hard time please reach out to me and I'll be happy to see how I can help. Take care.