Humans have been playing games for centuries, but today, games are often viewed simply as a distraction or a child-only activity. In reality, not only can games be fun for adults as well, but playing games provide important mental health benefits you may not have considered.
Whether it’s board games, virtual reality, in-person role-playing games, or even a throwback to the original stick and hoop game, playing games can provide much more than a fun distraction. This article walks you through the mental health benefits of playing games, helping you to understand why playing games is actually a great use of your time.
How Games Help Improve Mental Health
Critics of playing games believe that they are only distractions—they take away time and energy from being productive members of society. Yet, playing games offer a key outlet from daily stresses that negatively impact mental health.
Playing games is a great way to improve mental health, whether they are virtual games or in-person. Believe it or not, playing games can help a person recover from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and improve mental health diagnoses such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA), depression, and anxiety to name a few. While not a cure-all, playing games get people out of their shells.
Playing games also provides mental stimulation. Players have to solve puzzles, decipher codes, react to their environment, strategize their moves, and more. Plus, they have social interactions with others, participate in team building, collaborate with teammates, and learn to think on their feet. They get to be transported into a themed role in a first-person, role-playing game or create their own character. People can improvise and play-act in their escapism. This mental stimulation can help you “stay sharp” in the long term, as well as provide a nice break from your day-to-day life.
Playing games teaches emotional resiliency and goal-setting skills. When a person loses a game, they have to learn how to lose, cope with failure, and bounce back. A game player won’t be bogged down by a loss—rather, they can use their emotional resiliency to accept the failure and move on to the next challenge. Further, playing games teaches a person to set goals and achieve them—whether it’s solving a puzzle, cracking a code, or solving clues—they enable feelings of accomplishment.
People experience physical benefits from playing games that help improve mental health too. When solving puzzles, for example, a person’s levels of dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter that enables people to feel pleasure, increase. The excitement of the game can increase the heart rate of a player, thereby circulating more oxygen to the brain. Having to decipher codes or unscramble words makes a person’s brain cells connect and increases brain speed. Playing games boosts people’s moods, teaches crucial emotional development skills, and causes physical reactions that improve one’s mental health.
Mental Health Benefits Of Games: A Few Examples
Here are a few examples of how games can boost your mental health.
Chess: Chess is one of the most frequently discussed games when it comes to gaming’s benefits to the human brain. For example, chess has been shown not only to increase people’s ability to think strategically but it has actually been shown to reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s disease.
Escape rooms: One of the best games to play with other people is the escape room, which provides an in-person, thematic experience that transports players to another place and time. Themed escape rooms provide an excellent experience for improving mental health by enabling fun, safe, escapism. Players on a team have to work together to solve puzzles, crack codes, and solve clues in order to win. Not only does this create social interaction, which is an important facet of maintaining mental health, but escape rooms also exercise your brain in a similar manner to chess. By forcing you to focus and “escape” from the room, you get a nice break from real life at the same time as giving your brain some important practice of thinking strategically.
Video games: Some mental health experts argue that video games can provide a sense of control, a feeling that the choices we make actually make a difference, and feelings of accomplishment. In fact, a 2021 study found that gaming can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. While perhaps not all video games have mental health benefits, some are even specifically focused on exploring mental health topics. For example, Celeste is a video game about a girl who must climb to the top of a mountain while battling her anxiety and insecurities. The 2018 game Gris tells the story of a woman who loses her voice because of grief and must go on a quest to get her voice back.
No matter the type of game, it’s clear that the opportunity to play is important in keeping ourselves happy and engaged. So next time you have a little downtime, consider playing a game, even if it seems silly; it might be just what you need.
David writes about travel experiences and local entertainment to help spread the joy that new adventures bring. He’s always looking for new puzzles and games to test, sharing the best with the world.