Whether it’s a politician declaring them to be responsible for encouraging violence or a news station claiming they’re going to result in the downfall of our children, a lot of negativity has been thrown at video games and the people who play them.
It feels like things are changing though. More people are beginning to realise that gaming can help improve our mental health and every gamer has a personal story about how a certain title helped them through a tough time. Video games are gradually being seen as something of worth rather than the ‘mindless entertainment’ view frequently held by those who don’t play, and spending your weekend playing the latest release can be just as worthwhile as watching a movie or reading a book.
Have video games and playing them helped your wellbeing over the past year? Bonus question: how?—
Later Levels (@LaterLevels) May 05, 2021
Every now and again though, something happens to make you question just how quickly opinions are shifting. Here’s a recent anecdote for you. To make sure all staff are aware of the importance of the Data Protection Act (and that the company doesn’t get hit with large fines and reputational damage), my employer recently signed us all up for ‘an exciting learning programme’. It means everyone must complete a ‘monthly bite-sized learning module’ – basically, ten minutes of slides followed by a short quiz every few weeks.
The first of these arrived earlier this month. Covering the subject of ‘home working’, it featured sections on how to protect your personal network along with maintaining your well-being and productivity while working away from the office. One of the questions in the test at the end of the session was: ‘Which of the following is a great way to boost your mood with endorphins and maintain physical wellbeing?’ And the multiple-choice answers provided were working extra hours, exercise, online gaming and caffeine.
Yes, you read that right: online gaming was given as one of the options which were clearly supposed to be negative. After having to sit through several slides telling me that exercise is good and I should keep it up even while I’m working from home (no shit), that I should avoid caffeine and drink plenty of water (no shit again), and that I should avoid making my work hours bleed over into my personal time (one final no shit), the fact that the author had decided to choose gaming as a bad response really got my back up.
To be fair to my employer, they’ve tried to do a lot for their employees’ mental health during the lockdown. Over the past year we’ve had access to regular webinars on numerous wellbeing subjects, personal coaching sessions and meetings with counsellors. The favourite among staff has been the introduction of a two-hour ‘protected time’ period once a week, where we’re allowed to turn off our laptops and do an activity we enjoy without interruption from colleagues or meetings.
@LaterLevels Having something to pour anxious energy into when the world felt too overwhelming was a great help!—
Brink (@brinkofgaming) May 05, 2021
We’re supposed to do something ‘for ourselves’ during these extended breaks. For example, a colleague on my team goes to the gym or for a swim, while another takes a long walk through the woods close to their house. Someone else has been able to study for and pass their technical exams, and I’ve heard of other teams getting together online to watch box-sets and films. But if I were to admit to using my protected time to play a video game: should I now assume that my employer would view this negatively?
They obviously haven’t heard about any of the recent reports which highlight the positive effects of gaming. For instance, a study completed by the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford last year revealed a positive relation between gameplay and affective wellbeing. What made this so important was that it was one of the first to be conducted using data provided by publishers rather than relying upon participants to estimate how much time they spent playing, giving credence to the claim that video games can be good for our mental health.
And there’s also the experiment completed by a small international team using MMORPG ArcheAge in 2017. When confronted with an apocalypse scenario, players acted more nicely to each other and banded together to work as a team rather than focusing as much on their individual successes. The researchers found that instead of wreaking havoc, most chose to spend their time hanging out with fellow virtual comrades and being social over character advancement and progression.
What has the past year been if not our very own apocalypse scenario? It has highlighted the benefits of gaming with more people taking up the hobby since the first lockdown in March 2020. For some, it was a way to fill the free hours brought on by being furloughed from work. For others, video games provided a means to escape from everything going on in the real world when they needed a break. And for a lot of us, playing online with friends and family meant we were still able to spend time with those closest to us.
Ozzy (@karohemd) May 05, 2021
I’m not sure how well I’d have coped with the past 12 months if I hadn’t had gaming as a source of entertainment, social connection and stress relief. Hanging out in various Twitch chats with other bloggers gave me the chance to get to know them better, so much so that we’ve now become friends outside of streaming and blogging. Playing games with them online and being able to talk about what’s happening in our part of the world has made all the rough days a little bit brighter.
Perhaps I’m biased as a gamer but I do think it’s unfair of my employer to lump ‘online gaming’ into the same negative bracket as ‘working long hours’ and ‘caffeine’. Too much of it can obviously be a bad thing and staying active is important for your physical wellbeing – but picking up the controller for an hour or so does wonders for your mood. When used in a positive way, video games can be a great tool for helping to manage your mental health and boosting your happiness.
The person who wrote the questions for that quiz should give them a try. Now there’s a suggestion for their next session of protected time.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.