Pop quiz, Ready?
What’s the most important thing a Gamer must take care of at all times
A. Their Rig or Console?
B. Their insanely epic growing collection of games?
C. Their equipment (controllers, headsets, etc)
D. None of the above
Although all the above are important, they are not quite what I’m talking about. The most important thing a gamer must take care of is their mind. But why? Is it to stay sharp? Is it to keep up with the competition? This week we are covering this past weekend’s twitchcon. One of the sessions was on streaming and mental health. It got me thinking and talking to my fellow hosts and I wanted to discuss a deeper issue. Video Games and Mental Health.
The Dark Side
Video games were introduced in the early 70’s and took the world of gamers by storm. It ripped us from the world of physical boards, cards and small pieces of plastic. Then pushed us into the age of intangible opponents and heroes we vicariously lived through for hours at a time. But it took less than a decade for the industry to come under fire.
In 76 a game known as Death Race a more advanced version of pong, that had players running down as many enemies as possible in an allotted amount of time. The controversy began when many became upset over the high pitched scream, and tiny gravestone that appeared whenever you killed your enemies. This led to the game being pulled off the shelves. In 82 gamer’s were introduced to Custer’s Revenge the game’s main objective was to cross a desert while dodging arrows to get to a native American girl who is held captive and rape her. (I kid you not)
15 years later the first Major lawsuit was filed against the gaming industry by Jack Thompson. He did so on behalf of the parents of three students who were killed in the Heath High School shooting. The shooter had regularly played violent video games, along with viewing pornographic websites, the argument being that he had become desensitized and more prone to violence. A couple of months before, the ever controversial Grand Theft Auto made its debut to the world.
Just two years later the infamous event at Columbine would occur, this led many to take a harder look at the gaming industry as the suspects were allegedly fans of violent video games. Less than a decade Later a group of teenagers took the streets in the name of GTA performing an all-night crime spree. And in 2012 the tragic elementary school shooting at Sandy hook, cast the shooter as a fan of violent video games and attempted to reopen the discussion that Video games had a negative effect on the mental health of others.
Though these are just a small few of examples, video games have had an extensive bad rap for inspiring violence and being damaging to the mental condition. But is that really true? Can we really blame pixels and electronic interaction for the heinous acts of others? Or better yet if video games can be blamed for the negative, might there be a flip side to all this as well? Might others have been impacted positively by video games?
A little Gaming therapy
In 2009 studies showed that playing Tetris could actually help reduce the formation of traumatic memories. A researcher established the theory that playing Tetris can interrupt the memory processing in the hours succeeding a traumatic event. The result of the research proved that there is period following a traumatic event that the formation of traumatic memories can be interrupted. If one was to seize the part of the brain that processes both visual and spatial aspects they could, in essence, Lessen traumatic memories before they truly set in.
A study in Oxford, UK, took 71 ER patients that within the previous 6 hours had been involved in traffic accidents and were enrolled into the study. Each had either witnessed or been a part of a life-threatening experience or seriously injured. 37 patients were randomly selected to play 20 minutes of Tetris. The other 34 did regular activities such as texting, watching TV, calling a loved one etc. A week after the study the 37 had reported having traumatic flashbacks 8.7 times after the event. The other 34 reported having 23.3 traumatic Flashbacks post incident. This study showed that just 20 minutes of play could potentially cut down traumatic memory forming by 62 percent. When followed up on a month later little difference was found between the two groups, but some believe it may just be due to the lower amount of time spent playing.
Other studies have shown that Video games may provide the following benefits:
· 3D video games may increase memory capacity. Per the Mario test, a study that had a 3rd of a group of 69 participants play Mario 3D world, a 3rd played angry birds and the final group played nothing. The group that played Mario did much better on the memory test, and the others did not show any improvement.
· Gaming may help reduce pain. A study back in 2012 showed that in 38 studies, games improved the overall outcome of 195 patients on all fronts both psychologically and physically.
· Video games can actually make some smarter. In 2013 Researchers took a few groups of non gamers and had them play phone games for an hour a day for about a month. They found that both action and non-action games improved the cognitive functions in all participants.
· Career boosters. Researchers have found that video games have been able to sharpen mental acuity as well as instill motivation based goal setting.
So while gaming has had its bad and good historical aspects, it is safe to say that video games have an impact on the mind. But what are other aspects that affect the gamers mind?
Strength in numbers
In 2011, a streaming community designed to not only bring gamers together but also allow for entertainment was launched. This innovative community was called Twitch. Twitch allowed gamers, and other internet entertainers to stream themselves doing the things they loved for their adoring public. Streamers found a place to showcase their skills and possibly make a living, and viewers found a place to watch and enjoy content they thoroughly enjoyed. More than that Twitch has come to embody and embrace the term community. Despite the ever existing troll’s attempts to bring toxicity to streams, they are otherwise a positive place filled with laughter and often even education. Streamers find themselves in a position of helping others bring joy in darker times in their viewers lives. But who takes care of the Streamer? This brings us to the heart of the matter, a gamers own mental health must be the cornerstone of both entertaining or just recreational activities.
At Twitchcon this past weekend, Panelist discussed some of their own issues with maintaining mental health as well as tips they have for making sure that fellow gamers were both safe and mentally healthy. Some tips they provided were
· Being able to have and establish a routine.
· It being okay to take a break every now and again.
· Find hobbies outside of gaming.
· Learn to be honest with both yourself and those around you, If you’re not feeling ok it’s okay to talk about it.
Watching the twitchcon, I saw the many gamers that showed up and enjoyed themselves. Throngs of people converging on Long Beach, building connections and strengthening ones that already exist. This inspired me to think about one of the key components of maintaining your mental health as a gamer.
A German study in sports showed that solo Athletes are more likely to show symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts than team-based athletes. It is no secret that the expression no man is an island rings true in the mental health community. Often those who spend more time alone find that they are more depressed or deal with symptoms more often than those who interact with others. Even introverts such as myself still need the company of a few people in our circles.
Gaming communities such as Twitch, Rocket League, YouTube gaming etc are filled with individuals seeking and offering friendships and team building activities. The internet has made it so much easier for folks to reach out to people of all kinds of walks of life and form lasting bonds. This is an important aspect of mental health. Many believe that gaming leads to a very homebody type of lifestyle, but is that true? Not necessarily.
Take Twitchcon for example, or Pax, Dragoncon, and Game on Expo just to name a few. These are conventions held annually bringing gamers together to introduce new content and to unite them. But what if you can’t afford to go to these events or just don’t have the time? Meetup.com has created many groups to get gamers off the computers or consoles and into the real world.
The Gaming Industry
The gaming industry does not have a long history of acknowledging or even playing to the mental health of its consumers. This does not mean there aren’t some shining examples of games that have done just that.
Depression quest: A text Heavy, choose your own adventure type of game which centers on an unnamed person who struggles with depression.
Elude: A game originally designed to bring awareness of depression utilizing its backdrop in a thematic way.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice: This game focuses to extent on psychosis and the realities of often being caught in your own mind.
Actual sunlight: A short interactive indie game that actually sheds light on what it is like both being and interacting with a person who is suffering from depression. (Disclaimer: play this game with caution if you are currently dealing with bouts of depression)
These are just a few games that stand out in covering the difficult conversation of mental illness.
The pure and simple guide
All context aside the Gamer’s guide to mental health although heavy can be broken down a little simpler.
1. Though we play video games for escapism, learn to keep the worlds in perspective. “Real life always comes first”
2. Take time for yourself, do this by doing things that will lift you from comfort zone and into new and enjoyable passions.
3. Find communities to join, both in world and out. Solitude is important we all need time to ourselves from time to time. However so is interaction, connecting with others and forming friendships keeps our minds healthy and strong.
4. Do self-inventory, ask yourself:
Am I feeling sad or low for a period of 2 weeks or longer?
Do I feel like harming myself or others?
Am I not eating or sleeping enough?
How’s my mood?
5. If you find that you are struggling with any of the above, seek help.
6. Remember its just a game.
I am truly passionate about bringing awareness to mental illness and dealing with it. As one of those 50% diagnosed at a young age, I strongly believe that we must be ever aware of the challenges those struggling with mental illness face. I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder when I was 14, in its simplest term it is a hybrid of bipolar and schizophrenia.
I struggled with finding my place and also dealing with continuous emerging symptoms. I too turned to video games to help manage symptoms as well as escape the things occurring in my head. I want to encourage all that are struggling with mental illness, or parents, friends, and significant others be mindful of what is occurring with your loved ones or yourself. If you are concerned for the well being of yourself or someone else, try to get help and now you are not alone.
Ready for that pop quiz again?
What is the most important thing a gamer must take care of?
You got it their mind. We all love video games, or know someone who does. We love the idea of escaping, of building and winning. The thrill of competition and an impeccable story with all the thrills and intricacy we have grown to love. But the most important thing a gamer can do is take care of themselves. No matter how great you are on leader boards, or how many e-sports competitions you participate in, or even how big your collection is. None of that means anything if you aren’t 100%.
That’s all this week If this speaks to you or someone you know Share this. Comment down below with your takes on Mental Health and gaming. Follow the page for more information!