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Gaming has always been a contentious topic that elicits a lot of tongue-wagging, especially among parents and practitioners who might be worried about the impact of spending hours in front of a screen or console.
Yet, it appears that recreational gaming may potentially be beneficial for your health and well-being.
A recent study from the Victoria University of Wellington has confirmed that yes; casual video gaming may hold promise for tackling a variety of mental health issues, ranging from stress and anxiety to low mood and even depression.
Published online in the August 2020 edition of Games for Health Journal, this systematic review of 13+ well-regarded studies reported findings on the effects of 9 different recreational video games on mood problems, anxiety, depression, and stress.
At the same time, they also cross checked with research on the impact of gaming and gambling on brain training, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, substance abuse, and schizophrenia, amongst other neurological disorders.
At the end of the review, they found dramatic benefits of gaming for the brain, but the reasons behind these perks aren’t all that shocking when you think about it. What’s more, there are several other studies that seem to concur with the findings of this extensive review.
For instance, a new study highlighted here on Healthcare Weekly has shown that gambling could actually help gamblers become happier and beat mental health ills like depression and anxiety.
In another 2018 systematic review published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers from the University of Milan Bicocca found that video gaming may help keep dementia at bay in older adults and could even support learning.
Gaming and Positive Feelings Flow
It’s been long known that playing interesting video games is appealing to gamers partly because they induce the flow of “happy-feel” hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin. These are neurotransmitters that are known to influence certain brain centers responsible for regulating anxiety, depression, and mood, as well as bone health, sleep, and digestion.
More specifically, when a gamer’s playing skills and strategy match with the challenges, goals, and rules of the game, that’s when they experience the most intense flow of positive feelings. Casual games that elicit this type of positive mental flow can be wide-ranging, from computer video games, mobile apps, video slot, and other recreational casino games.
How casual gaming may play a role in tackling anxiety and depression
Video gaming can be highly entertaining and occasionally rewarding, but do they hold the secret to dealing with symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders?
Out of the 13 studies analyzed in the systematic review, twelve articles indicated that playing casual video games for around 30 minutes could help lessen anxiety and depressive symptoms. This is quite promising given that most casual video games are now inexpensive and widely available.
What’s more intriguing is that the casual video games reviewed in these studies seem to share some gameplay characteristics. For instance, progressing from one level of the game to the next coincided with increasing difficulty. Most of them made use of bright color schemes and involved instant feedback.
When you think about it, these reward-based features align closely with the psychological characteristics deemed to trigger positive feelings flow. Moreover, past studies have suggested that when an individual is experiencing the flow of positive feelings, they become more focused on the task at hand, so there is no wiggle room for anxiety and depressive symptoms.
By the same token, it’s possible that the therapeutic benefits of casual gaming may be partly due to the video games’ match the gamer’s current level of skill. On top of that, playing a recreational game may give the player an opportunity to distract themselves from situations that may trigger depression, low mood, stress, and anxiety.
Effective gaming requires memory and focus, both of which can be directly associated with someone’s mood. This seems to be true in some studies which saw positive changes in the brain while players played casual video games.
In specific, the gamers showed a reduction in brain waves in the left frontal alpha, suggesting mood improvement. The positive impact of gaming on the mood is nearly the same as that of the studies that found a decrease in anxiety and depressive symptom after playing recreational video games.
Qualitatively, mood improvements coincided with an increase in the state of flow of positive feelings. For example, those who played successfully were in a better mood at the end of the session, commenting that they want to keep playing. Others said they found the challenge of gaming enjoyable.
However, the convergent positive outcomes of gaming found through qualitative, psychological, and physiological methods seem to suggest that conclusive research into the therapeutic effects of playing casual video games is still needed.
Therapeutic benefits of recreational gambling
Two of the 13 studies focused on the therapeutic effects of gambling specifically on low mood, depression, and anxiety, and stress. Both of these studies noted significant improvements when participants indulged in casual gambling compared with a relaxation activity, browsing the web, or a passive break.
In combination with casual video games, gambling has shown high potential in reducing anxiety, depression, and mood problems. In fact, the anxiety-reducing effects of gaming were much more effective than a dual-medication regimen, a waitlist condition, and dental attention- bias modification training.
This is great news considering that the popularity of online gambling has exploded in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. More people are simply flocking to internet betting sites to play slot machines, table games, and other casino offerings where they can now find a huge list of online casino games.
If the findings of these studies hold true, this could be a game-changer for gamblers and generally people who suffer from mental health conditions like anxiety, depressive mood, and depression.
Obviously, there’s little objectively good about these therapeutic benefits if they come with vices like gambling addiction.