Video games have the power to improve your mental health during lockdown
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;
Story

Video games have the power to improve your mental health during lockdown

Sydney NSW
30th Mar 2020
Video games have the power to improve your mental health during lockdown
Open yourself to a world of escapism, exploration, communication and mental health representation.

When you?re stuck between four walls for fourteen days or more, it?s easy for feelings of stagnancy and claustrophobia to kick in. Self-isolation, as the term itself suggests, can be a lonely experience for many. So what are some ways to manage your new shrink-wrapped reality? 

Virtual portals

The virtual realities offered in video games have always existed as alternative worlds for us to inhabit. They provide a distraction, community, and intellectual stimulus, all without having to leave your bedroom. And you don?t need to be a hardcore gamer to take advantage of them. 

Dr. Sachin Shah, a British psychiatrist, and avid video gamer says that although there doesn?t seem to be supporting evidence that video games can cure mental illness, they can provide an effective coping mechanism to help people mediate their situation, depending on their needs. 

Video games cater to a huge range of players? needs and desires. Non-gamers may be best acquainted with the stereotypical games portrayed in mainstream media, often military-themed shoot-em?-ups. Yet in the same way that thriller novels are just the tip of the literary iceberg, video games also offer a variety of forms and experiences. This article will delve into the types of videogames that will be most useful for those of us currently stuck at home. 

That said, fast-paced games shouldn?t be dismissed completely. Dr. Shah recommends Overwatch or Fortnite as a way of engaging and communicating with people online. Both games are action-packed but are also based around teamwork with other players - these can be friends and family or you can create teams with strangers. Many MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) games offer some form of social interaction, such as the gaming staple World of Warcraft, where you can choose the amount of interaction with other players. Dr. Jane McGonigal, Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future, refers to this type of socialising as ?ambient sociability?. 

?Ambient sociability is a very casual form of social interaction; it may not create direct bonds, but it does satisfy our craving to feel connected to others. It creates a kind of social expansiveness in our lives ? a feeling of inclusion in a social scene, and access to other people if we want it.?  

It may be just what the doctor ordered if you?re craving some form of human interaction.

But if that's not your speed, says Dr. Shah, and you're feeling trapped, you might prefer an open world to explore. Shah's favourite video game in this category is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. "It's as challenging as you want it to be," remarks Dr. Shah. The point of the game is world-exploring; run through rolling sand dunes, snow-dusted mountains, and sun-dappled forests. The sweeping orchestral soundtrack alone entirely immerses you inside this sprawling virtual reality. 

Otherwise, if you?re searching for something soothing that creates routine, Stardew Valley might be the way to go. This game is easy-entry for those unfamiliar with the video gaming universe. Dr. Shah notes that you can play at your own pace and download it onto your computer which the need to own a game console. 

One of the most wholesome and easy-going video games to help boost morale is Kind Words. Anonymous letters glide into your room containing encouraging messages. The idea is you pass on compassionate messages as well, folding up virtual paper airplanes that will then swoop onto someone?s else screen on the other side of the world. We could all appreciate some kind words at the moment. 

Identifying mental health issues

Beyond the current Covid-19 pandemic, video games are still important as a representation of mental health. The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association?s Digital Australia 2020 report found that two-thirds of Australians play video games. Video games? significant scope can play a positive role in reducing the stigma around mental illness.

"It?s important we take care of messaging in video games,? states Dr. Shah, ?because that?s where people are learning.?

Nicky Case is one video game creator focusing on exactly that. Their latest game, Adventures with Anxiety, personifies anxiety through the character of a wolf who follows around the human character and provides a running commentary on their day-to-day activities.

?I?ve made this for folks with anxiety disorder, like myself,? explains Case in the game?s blurb, ?I hope it can help you see ? with humour ? how anxiety works. And, just maybe, reduce the fear of fear itself.?

It?s a casual game: a relatively short playtime of 30 minutes and accessible via PC or smartphone. Of course, the life experiences associated with having anxiety extend beyond the game and Case has offered a ?companion piece? with mental health resources as well as the story and theory behind the game. 

A video game with a robust depiction of mental health is effective in so many ways. Case uses the best elements of video games for the benefit of players. Adventures with Anxiety simultaneously offers both education and engaging play. It has personal experience and scientific research to back it up. There?s even a version of the game with the expletives removed so educators can use it in classroom settings. 

Tearing away the plastic

Social distancing and self-isolation are not the only causes of the plastic tightly wrapped around our daily existence. However, they do often exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues. Video games can?t (yet) promise to alleviate any mental illness but they can certainly work as powerful mediators. Escapism, exploration, communication, and mental health representation ? we can find all these through the virtual realities of video games. All we have to do is press play. 

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