Can Video Games Help With Mental Health & Sense Of Self?

Can Video Games Help With Mental Health & Sense Of Self?It’s easy to think that video games, online games, or even in-person board games are limited firmly to the “recreational activity” category.

It’s unlikely that you would be too far off, after all, there’s nothing shameful or incorrect about enjoying yourself and having fun for the sake of it.

But it’s also important to note that investing in these experiences at the expense of everything else in life isn’t the best way forward.

Many arguments have been written about this beforehand, and the results are clear – healthy gaming is on the same level as listening to music, watching television, or any other number of calm hobbies we might engage in without a strict productive focus unless of course you create content or compete competitively.

But there’s one question that studies are unfortunately lacking in…

Can video games help mental health? Plus improve self esteem?

It’s not always easy to know. In this post, we’ll pose some theories about how and why playing games can be healthy from a mental perspective, provided they’re enjoyed in moderation and responsibility.

I’m sharing about this topic because I’m a bestselling author on anxiety and leading Behavioral Change Coach – with about 2 million books sold globally.

Plus I founded the therapist recommended self-paced online course called The Anxiety Cure.

I love to help people to live calmer, happier lives – so I created this article about how video games help mental health.

Stress Relief & Relaxation

Life is stressful. You don’t have to be a distracted or sensitive person to understand that. However, having healthy methods of dealing with your stress can be helpful. For some, that might involve reading, meditating, going for walks in nature, taking long soaks in the bath – it all counts. Gaming can also be a helpful measure. 

After all, it’s easy to think of video gaming as solely about conflict, but that’s not the case at all. There are many comfortable adventure games, or even games like Stardew Valley where you curate a lovely farm over years and spend time in community life. There’s no shame in escaping to a fun, calm, pleasant world after a hard day, provided it doesn’t preclude you from the real world.

Social Connection & Community Building

In 2024, a great deal of gaming worth is now online. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to see individuals heading to internet-connected spaces to play video games with like-minded people. Again, that doesn’t mean you have to compete. There are many cooperative video games where you can meet other people, plan tasks with them, and relax. 

Moreover, the fun of creating a digital life is that you don’t have to give away any personal information. You can simply be yourself, and play at having fun without many social implications for you in real life.

Cognitive Skills Development

You don’t have to play the latest and greatest games to think laterally, implement abstract or creative solutions to problems, and compete through your brain power alone. This can make gaming similar to reading, as it gives you a brain workout and the willingness to think outside of your usual box.

After all, chess has been considered one of the most mentally stimulating games out there, and if you thrive under gentle pressure, you could help invest your stress into that format, allowing you to express it carefully. Cognitive skills can also come from various puzzle games, such as Heaven’s Vault or Overboard which cause you to think through creative problems, the former through translating languages, in a gamified way.

Emotional Regulation & Expression

Games can tell stories. That might involve playing D&D with your friends and roleplaying a character, exploring traits and virtues you’ve always wanted to experiment with. It might mean seeing a love story, or seeking a tale of adventure that deals with loss.

The truth is that there are so many wonderful experiences out there, with creative works penned by great artists. One of the best recently, Baldur’s Gate 3, allows players to enter a fantasy world with a character they want to present themselves as, and have fun with that format.

That’s not to say games of any type are the only way to showcase emotional regulation, but it can certainly be a healthy escape if you need it – even if you’re just looking for a good cry, but are tired of reading sad books or watching heartbreaking movies.

Sense of Achievement & Mastery

The truth is that not everyone has great self-esteem. Of course, that doesn’t mean achievements in the “gaming world” can reflect on your real life, or will give you anything tangible you can bring into your job.

Or, can it? It might be that with a group of friends you play with, you can enjoy squad-based cooperative fun, giving and taking commands, cooperating with care, and being able to practice your assertiveness and active listening. That’s not the worst place to begin building your self-esteem, seeing your inner character traits that haven’t had the chance to sprout elsewhere.

This will only be worthwhile if you translate this outside of the virtual space, however, be that volunteering for a local team, putting yourself forward at work, or simply taking responsibility when you see it. For some, a practice run in a safe space could be a lovely way to rebuild those difficulties.

Creativity & Imagination Stimulation

The world around us is wonderful, filled with amazing people and places. Being able to look underneath the general drudgery of your routine can help you see that. But it’s true none of us have cast a spell, or rode atop a dragon, or have saved the world.

In some cases, it’s nice to see how you’d react and respond given that experience. The gaming space can help you enjoy fun stories like that, both limited in fantasy scope or enjoying an all-out and somewhat camp expression.

As such, gaming can help with your sense of self because it allows you to explore more parts of who you are, perhaps how you’d react to an incredible story you would never enjoy in real life, or what characters you would most appreciate. Does this help with mental health? Well, not if you substitute this world for your own, but in some cases it can provide you room to breathe, giving you the strength and sense of detachment needed to come back and treat yourself like the hero you have the chance to be.

Problem-Solving & Decision-Making Practice

Many people quite understandably have issues making hard and fast decisions or trusting themselves to problem-solve. But in a virtual or gamified space where consequences are minimal, you can try to become more comfortable with the assertive decisions you’ve made.

Undergoing that problem-solving practice can help you explore part of yourself you haven’t before – the part of you able to make decisions and accept consequences bit by bit. That might involve deciding which lots to invest in during Monopoly (yes, it can really be this simple), how to cut your losses, how to press the advantage, or how to make a moral decision for your team.

Now, are you likely to take what you’ve learned in a video game and apply it to a work meeting? Very unlikely. But could it help you practice the soft skills of being able to put a point forward, of not being afraid to self-advocate, or to understand that often, a decision made with the best knowledge you have will always be better than one which waits for perfect understanding? We believe so.

Recap: Video Games Help Mental Health

With this advice, we hope you can see how, in some cases, gaming can help with mental health, self-belief, and even a sense of self, especially if your confidence has taken a knock as of late. Moreover, these spaces can be helpful distractions if suffering tough emotions like grief, without causing you to fall into worse habits or even full isolation.

So, why not try gaming today?

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