Play On! Video Games and Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jonas Calimlim

Undergraduate Intern

Video games also offer a sense of achievement and progress. Again, something so subtle is probably helping you so much. You might have seen the taskbar or task list in games get filled with activities you could try and accomplish. As a result, you feel immersed in trying to complete the task until -- poof! You see that task checked off your list and move on to the next.

Photo by lalesh aldarwish

A year into the COVID-19 Pandemic…and still counting.

The pandemic has taken a toll on the lives of many people across the globe. Gone (at least for now) are the days where we could safely leave our homes, gather with friends and simply live life to the fullest without worrying about contracting the virus. Now, most of us are in our own “bubbles”, trying to make do with the situation we’re in right now. Most people have resorted to trying out new hobbies, like cooking more often or discovering the wonders of being a plantito/plantita, while others have resorted to picking up old hobbies. There are also people, especially the youth & adolescents, who turn to a place for ultimate comfort and excitement; somewhere that isn’t an actual place in our society to begin with: Video Games.

Photo by Andrea Piacquiado

Even prior to the pandemic, video games have been held infamous for being a source of addiction and bad habits for young people. They’re heavily stigmatized for providing these people with dream-like worlds to roam in, detaching them from the real world. As a result, many people see games as something anti-social and a waste of time. But that’s only one side of the story, and during this pandemic, the focus has shifted from games being an unhealthy pastime to something meaningful and helpful.

The Pandemic and the Changes It Brought

One of the psychological impacts of COVID-19 is the anxiety it instills onto people because of fears of contracting the virus and doubts of the near future, among others. This is very much prevalent in the younger generation, with studies reporting that depression and anxiety spiked during the pandemic due to social isolation, continuous disruptions in school activities, missed milestones in their young lives, and concerns over the prolonged and possible impacts of the pandemic (Molano, 2021; Tee et al., 2020). As a result, many young people turn to video games to alleviate these anxieties in numerous ways. If you can recall, you might have seen, heard, or played certain games that were trending during this pandemic: Animal Crossing, Genshin Impact, Mobile Legends, Valorant, Among Us, the list goes on and on. These diverse games have been the source of happiness for many of us, especially the younger generation, during these times, and the reasons why are quite diverse as well.

Photo by Sam Pak on Unsplash

Why Video Games
One way is that video games provide us with a sense of comfort and peace. Maybe sometimes you feel amazed by how beautiful the game’s environment is designed, or have felt relaxed or energized with the game’s background music. In an interview with Dr. Aimee Daramus, she said most of these games “…take up so much of your attention that they can push your anxieties away for a while.”. I play Animal Crossing every now and then just to take in the scenery of the island; the flowers and animals, seeing virtual characters (or ‘Villagers’) approach and suddenly smile at my own character, the weird and wacky designs I made all throughout my island (which I don’t plan to remove anytime soon). However you experience it, take some moments to really appreciate it and try to observe how you feel.

Video games also offer a sense of achievement and progress. Again, something so subtle is probably helping you so much. You might have seen the taskbar or task list in games get filled with activities you could try and accomplish. As a result, you feel immersed in trying to complete the task until — poof! You see that task checked off your list and move on to the next.

​You might have also seen the victory screen time multiple times, and as you gain those victories you earn different in-game rewards, maybe it’s a costume or skin for your favorite character, or simply a virtual trophy or a medal. It’s also important to remember that you could achieve these things however you want to, which also gives you a sense of autonomy. Plus it looks fun if you do achieve things your way! Although it shouldn’t replace the goals you’ve set for yourself in real life, these smaller and virtual goals could temporarily fill the void of your real-life goals that seem out of reach because of the pandemic.

Photo by RDNE Stock project

What gaming has been well-recognized for, especially during this pandemic, is that it allows people to interact and forge new bonds with others. But how, you say, because going outside and hanging out with friends and crowds isn’t advised? Simple: Virtual Spaces and Online Communities!

Making Connections through Gaming

A lot of games nowadays have social features where you could invite friends and share your creations on social media for the world to see. Some have in-game chats where you could share anything and everything with friends and other people who have the same interests as you do. In essence, we’d feel that we’re together with these people even if they’re not physically with us. It’s like catching up with our friends on campus or meeting a new friend in a physical event. Contrary to what I’ve mentioned earlier about video games being labeled as anti-social, video games nowadays serve as an avenue for social interaction; communities helping each other, and reaching out to people who are in need of emotional and social support.

​In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO), together with large video game developers, launched the #PlayApartTogether campaign to encourage physical distancing by bringing events, rewards, and inspiration to many of the popular games we have today. This has been a monumental step in the right direction between gaming and mental health. According to Activision’s CEO Bobby Kotick, games are the perfect platform to connect people in a safe manner, and that games connect people “…through the lens of joy, purpose, and meaning.”

Photo by RDNE Stock project

I’ve rambled on about how games have been beneficial to our mental health during these times, but I know that too much of a good thing can be harmful; the same applies for gaming. Some games are still linked to aggressive and violent tendencies, excessive gaming can still lead to different negative mental health effects like stress, anxiety, depression, and harmful behaviors.

Don’t worry! We have a few tips you could follow for healthy gaming,
READ HERE: https://www.in-touch.org/covid-19-youth/tips-for-healthy-gaming​

Video games have been instrumental in keeping our mental health in check during this pandemic. Not only does it provide us a way to calm ourselves down, achieve more, and connect with others, it helps keep us safe from the virus. We must also keep in mind that these benefits are felt if we practice healthy gaming habits. We don’t know when this pandemic will end, but like many games out there, we will all become victorious. So until then…

Photos:

Sam Pak on Usplash: https://unsplash.com/@melocokr?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText

RDNE Stock Project on Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/@rdne/

Ialesh Aldarwish

Andrea Piacquiado

References:


Bullen, C. & Chen, J. (2020). Video games and mental health during Covid-19: Opportunities and precautions. The University of Auckland. https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/news/2020/07/13/video-games-mental-health-covid-19.html


Langille, A., Daviau, C., & Hawreliak, J. (2020). Video Games Can Ease Loneliness During a Pandemic. Inverse. https://www.inverse.com/gaming/video-games-covid-19-mental-health


McPhillips, K. (2020). How COVID-19 Made Playing Video Games a Mental-Health Practice. Well + Good. https://www.wellandgood.com/video-games-mental-health-covid-19/


Takahashi, D. (2020). WHO and game companies launch #PlayApartTogether to promote physical distancing. VentureBeat. https://venturebeat.com/2020/03/28/who-and-game-companies-launch-playaparttogether-to-promote-physical-distancing/


Tee, M. L., Tee, C. A., Anlacan, J. P., Aligam, K., Reyes, P., Kuruchittham, V., & Ho, R. C. (2020). Psychological impact of COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines. Journal of affective disorders, 277, 379–391. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.08.043


WebMD (n.d.) Are There Mental Health Benefits of Video Games? https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-benefits-of-video-games


Zaitsoff, D. (2020). Video Games as Coping During COVID-19 with Drew Zaitsoff. Purdue University. https://www.purdue.edu/caps/covid-19/caps-corner/video-games-as-coping.html

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Play On! Video Games and Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Video games also offer a sense of achievement and progress. Again, something so subtle is probably helping you so much. You might have seen the taskbar or task list in games get filled with activities you could try and accomplish. As a result, you feel immersed in trying to complete the task until — poof! You see that task checked off your list and move on to the next.

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