Mental Help From Behind the Screen?

Mental help finds allies with an Unexpected Pastime.. (It’s Video Games)

A 2018 study from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eddendorph found that significant improvements in everyday life were linked to doing one activity. The experiment catalyst? An action video game.

Who would’ve known?

The research into video game psychology has been an expanding field within the larger field of psychology. Researchers at the Victoria University at Wellington concluded that subjects of 12 out of 13 research studies had already shown immediate effects pertaining in a 2020 study into modern casual games.

The Problem Gamer stands as the quintessential concept many in the past few decades have identified with or against. Coined by Jing Shi, Rebecca Renwick, Nigel E.Turner, and Bonnie Kirsh of the University of Toronto, this description embodies the long-standing stereotype of game enthusiasts. This classification is not without its reasons, as findings on excessive gaming in their 2019 study had found shared detrimental effects to mental and physical well-being among all subjects.

While not inaccurate for all cases, gamers since the early 21st century have been viewed to be the “stereotypical lonely, overweight, underachieving, introverted, lazy, and socially inept”, descriptions described by Clinical Psychologist Anthony Bean, who teaches on the concepts of psychology and video games, and how they are overlaid upon our everyday lives.

With this knowledge into the stigma of video games and gamers, the scientists from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf set out to tackle the beneficial potential of video games within the field of mental health.

Boson X gamplay. Player controls avatar and movement control is limited to three keys for accessibility. Players run through the tunnel and must restart on running on an empty space and falling. The clear goal and simple controls allow for accessibility in players selected. Credit: Adapted from Fighting Depression: Action Video Game Play May Reduce Rumination and Increase Subjective and Objective Cognition in Depressed Patients. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00129

Researchers conducted a long term examination on the effect of casual gaming on the psychological state of depressed individuals in the long term. Applying interview analysis techniques, researchers used a modified testing version of Boson X, a fast paced action game, to test patients against a set control group. Findings analyzed through a response style theory displayed significant decreases and a surprising increase with cognitive action.

Researchers conducted a long term examination on the effect of casual gaming on the psychological state of depressed individuals in the long term. Applying interview analysis techniques, researchers used a modified testing version of Boson X, an action game, to test patients against a set control group. Findings analyzed through a response style theory displayed significant decreases and a surprising increase with cognitive action.

As researchers at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eddendorph continue with phases in a randomized trial, participants are cut out due from experimental difficulties. Data is collected from the remaining subjects who completed questionnaires and cognitive tests and did not have technical problems. Rumination was consistently reported after a six week trail in post-test. Fighting Depression: Action Video Game Play May Reduce Rumination and Increase Subjective and Objective Cognition in Depressed Patients. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00129

The Games Industry

Researchers at the University of Toronto identify Individual and external influences on the push and pull aspects on the amount of gaming. Credit: Adapted from Understanding the lives of problem gamers: The meaning, purpose, and influences of video gaming. Computers in Human Behavior, 97, 291–303. https://doi-org.oca.ucsc.edu/10.1016/j.chb.2019.03.023.

Although the potential benefits of games are a new and contended area of study for psychologists, this close connection with mental influence could expose industry secrets which games companies and developers have already explored and pioneered. With the games industry flourishing in 2021, one could wonder whether academics are heading up a road treaded many times. It turns out they are only catching up with the diverse industry, after its expansion more than 40 years since the conceptions of the genre’s most classic titles.

What have developers picked up since the times of old? In the last decade, games development may have evolved more than you would expect. Associate Professor of Psychology Joseph F. Chandler, explains that games are now developed with mental stimulants in mind, made to keep players playing. Examples come in the form of interactions in the matching game Candy Crush Saga, where Nicole Specter writes of game elements that are directly added by companies to elicit specific responses from consumers. Clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Strohman agrees, noting specific bright cues that tap into instinctual sensors that release a sense of alarm.

Conclusion
So, at the end of the day, what is for the future of gaming for mental health? There is certainly promising research supporting the positive effects of a diverse but limited array of games. For action games and casual games, for certain games within these genres, findings share a common result: reduction to rumination and stress. However, critics of games development reason that it is important for psychologists and consumers to identify what games companies have in mind for games during development. Some video games are proven to have a positive effect with reducing anxiety and improving activity on a long term.

One thing is for certain, though. Although we are far from understanding to what extent creativity can be expressed to elicit what beneficial effects, everyday, more and more effects are observed by gamers and psychologists. Go out and play some games, be aware yet careful, and you may discover something new.

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