Depression is one of the most prevalent mental disorders in the world. In fact, about 15 million Americans are affected by this mental disorder.
Now, depression has varying degrees of severity. There is mild depression and there’s even what is called as “major depression” or “clinical depression.”
Most people associate depression with just mere sadness, but that is not the case. Depression is actually composed of a number of symptoms. People who suffer from depression will have to have a couple of symptoms before they are diagnosed with the said mental disorder.
Some symptoms include having insomnia, lack of interest in doing things that usually make you happy, being too irritable, having weight gain or weight loss issues, lack of appetite, difficulty in making decisions, just to name a few.
Since depression is quite common, one way to combat this mental disorder will entirely depend on your coping style.
Not a lot of people might have thought of this, but did you know that video games can actually have a great impact with regards to combating depression?
A renowned psychologist, Brian Sutton-Smith, has conducted a lot of experiments that study adults and children’s reaction at play.
He noted that people who play are more excited, more energetic, and are full of positive emotions than people who do not engage in playful activities.
It is worth noting that the studies that he has conducted were done many decades ago. Despite it being a bit dated, it still holds true today; people who play are far more adept at keeping depression at bay.
In the modern world, there are a lot of games; a lot of genres that suit any person’s interest and preference. In the early 2000s, games have a very bad connotation in that some games can actually increase the likelihood of developing severe depression. There are also some studies that say that games can actually introduce an inclination to do violent acts, like playing games that involve, well, violence.
But if that were true, then can games induce a more positive effect? That is where we correlate Smith’s early studies and the modern world.
In Smith’s study, he said that when people play, there are two regions in the brain that get stimulated: a region that is called the “reward pathways” and the “hippocampus”.
For those of you who do not know, the “reward pathway” is composed of the VTA or Ventral Tegmental Area, the Prefrontal Cortex, and the Nucleus Accumbens. All of them get activated whenever a pleasurable action is experienced.
The Hippocampus, on the other hand, is located in a region in the brain called the Limbic System. This region is what regulates our emotions and the Hippocampus’ role is that of memory, especially ones that are long-term.
Just a couple of years ago, a study conducted at Stanford University, showed fMRI results of gamers. What has been seen is that the two regions of the brain: the reward pathway and the hippocampus, are “hyperstimulated”.
Since depression is likened to severe sadness and lack of interest in doing pleasurable things, wouldn’t playing be a great way to solve depression? Well, there is some truth to that.
What makes games a way to treat depression? Well, when we play games, we are always going for a goal. We always do things to satisfy one goal or multiple goals in order to finish the mission or the entire game.
This constant goal-setting stimulates and develops both the reward pathways and the Hippocampus to the point that people are mentally “healthy”.
And, I am not talking only about educational games; I am talking about the various genre of games. From MMORPGs to MOBA games. Heck, even Minecraft has a great effect on your cognition and mental health.
My point is, games can actually improve your mood and state of mind. But do note that people are wired differently, so mileage may vary.
It is also important to note that the different genres of games can have a huge impact in the way you cope with depression. I will discuss more of it in the next section.
Different Game Genres and How it Affects People with Depression and Other Mental Disorders
In this section, I will talk about the popular game genres and what they can offer people who are not only suffering from depression, but also from other mental disorders as well.
1. RPG (Role-playing Games)– RPG games can help people with social anxiety; people who have a problem interacting with others. That is because in RPG games, people are going to use avatars or characters and they will use these characters in order to interact with the game world. From questing, adventuring, and killing monsters to interacting with other players, characters, and NPCs. RPG games can help people with depression because it allows them to interact, even if it is in the virtual world.
2. Competitive First-person Shooters- FPS games have become quite competitive these days. The likes of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch are prime examples of it. But, competitive FPS games can actually increase the motivation of people who are suffering from Depression. That is because doing certain objectives, say, eliminating the opposing team to win, is a “goal” that a person can achieve. Constant goal-setting actually improves the reward pathways of the brain and overtime; it can be healthy for people who are suffering from depression. Just be careful, though, as constant losses may induce the opposite effect.
3. Casual Games- By casual games, I meant puzzle games or games that do not require you to be on your feet while playing them. Such games can alleviate people from their stress and anxiety. Games such as Candy Crush, Bejeweled, and Cut the Rope, are just some of the prime examples of these games. Not only is the game casual and easy to play, but it can also stimulate the mind, plus, these games are just so cute!
4. MOBA (Massive Online Battle Arena)- You might have heard of games such as Dota 2 or Heroes of the Storm. Such games are under the “MOBA” genre. These games can help people foster teamwork. Depressed people are lonely people, so if they play MOBA games, it can help them cope with their loneliness since they are going to be interacting with people in the online realm. Since the MOBA genre can be competitive like the FPS games, constant losses may produce an unwanted effect.
5. VR Gaming- Virtual-Reality gaming is slowly becoming mainstream and did you know that there are some games that can actually improve the mood of people who are suffering from mental disorders such as depression? There are a lot of Virtual-Reality games that can help improve the mood of a person. Games that emulate a serene and peaceful environment is a great way to up your mood.
We now know that playing games can actually have a positive effect on people with mental disorders, especially the ones who are suffering from some form of depression.
But, despite this fact, there are certain caveats you need to be aware of. The key here is Moderation.
When people turn to games to the point that they are going to be addicted, that can produce an adverse effect on one’s mental health and coping mechanisms.
People who are addicted to games do so as a means to “escape reality”. It is akin to alcoholism where people turn to alcohol to escape their problems.
You know what this leads to, right? When you wake up, you’re not only going to have the same problems you had when you were sober, but you are also going to feel like crap.
Same goes with being addicted to games. Not only are you going to have the same problems, but you’re also going to suffer more problems like social isolation and anxiety. Heck, you can even aggravate your depression as well!
So, what are you going to do to reap the positive effects of gaming? As mentioned previously, play games in moderation.
Play games only to stimulate both your reward pathways and hippocampus. Once they are activated, you’re going to feel better and you’re going to be more positive in your outlook in life.
Also, do not turn to games as a sole medium to interact with other people. Do it as a stepping stone, but not the actual goal. Your goal is to prep yourself to interact with people in the real world. Doing so will help you get real friends and therefore, improve your social life.
Some Tips to Remember
Depression is a mental disorder that should be treated using the right mediums. Below are some tips to remember if you are suffering from the said disorder.
1. Have yourself treated- As I’ve mentioned in many parts of the article, Depression is a prevalent mental disorder. It is best that you get yourself treated by seeing a psychologist or a psychotherapist as they are better equipped to help you.
2. Games can improve people’s fight against Depression– This article is all about games and how they can affect a person’s fight against Depression. We have learned that playing games can stimulate both the reward pathways and the Hippocampus. Even though this is the case, you still need to seek the help of a psychologist if you are suffering from major depression.
3. Moderation- As with everything in this world, the key is moderation. Playing games can be a pleasurable experience, but you have to play moderately. Do not play games as a means to escape reality. Play games only to further improve yourself as a person.
4. Play the right games- Although games can provide a pleasurable experience, not all games are enjoyable. Avoid playing horror or suspense games as it can elevate the heart rate and can make you more anxious. Also, play competitive games in moderation. If you are constantly losing, it is best to play another game instead. Why not try one of those VR games that allow you experience nature at the comfort of your own home?
5. Improve Social Interaction- One symptom of depression is the pervasive feeling of loneliness. In such cases where you are suffering from this disorder, it is best that you start to improve your interactions with other people. Seek the company of your friends and family and maybe play online games as an avenue to meet new people.
If you are interested in the topic of how games can affect people with depression, below are just some of the great reads I’ve found that might interest you:
1. Emotional Benefits of Gaming- A study published by Isabela Granic, Adam Lobel, and Rutger C. M. E. Engels is a promising one in that they’ve cited that games provide a creative way to help improve one’s mood and experience. You can read their findings here.
2. SPARX- A group of New Zealand researchers has created a virtual-reality game called “SPARX”. This game uses a type of therapy known as CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is proven to be effective in treating people with Depression. You can find out more about this game and the researchers’ findings here.
3. Project EVO- A game that was originally intended for people with ADD, Project EVO has been found to be effective in treating people with depression. The game has some promising results. You can read more about its positive effects here.
4. The Effectiveness of Casual Games in Improving the Mood- Casual games are great when it comes to improving one’s mood. This study by Russioniello, et.al provides insight and promising results by subjecting people to playing different kinds of casual games. You can find out more about the study here.
Depression is a prevalent mental disorder. Although it is quite common, not a lot of people know how to address this.
Aside from getting the help of a psychologist/therapist, people can turn to games to help them alleviate the negative effects of depression.
It has been found that games can have a profound and helpful effect on people who are suffering mild depression. Heck, it can even help people with Major depression, albeit, with the help of a therapist, of course.
Countless studies have been made and it has been found out that games do have a positive effect on one’s cognitive abilities and their moods.
By playing the right games, you not only minimize the grip of depression, but you also bolster your defense against it and other mental disorders as well.