Video Games Can Boost Emotional Health and Reduce Loneliness

It’s what you play and how you engage in the platform that matters. 

By Dr. Guy Winch

When you think of video games in the context of mental health, what comes to mind? For most people, the association is not a positive one. Concerns have been raised about video games causing violence; gaming culture being sexist, racist, and homophobic; and whether video game addiction should become an official diagnosis.

But while video games and gaming can have detrimental impacts in some contexts, what gets lost amidst the psychopathology-skewed headlines is that they can also provide significant benefits to our emotional health and well-being. In fact, game developers are now designing games with the specific purpose of addressing psychological issues and boosting emotional health.

For example, Sea of Solitude—developed by Jo-Mei Games and published by video gaming giant Electronic Arts—was created by Cornelia Geppert after a painful breakup in 2013. In the game, Kay, the heroine, has to fight humans who have turned into monsters because they became too lonely. To save herself from becoming one of them, she has to fight her own loneliness. The game is both emotional and compelling. I recently met Cornelia at a conference and witnessed firsthand the engagement and immersion of the attendees as they played it.

Multiplayer platforms can be especially conducive to increasing social connection, forming community, and reducing loneliness. Tom, a married man in his thirties, spends roughly 10 to 15 hours a week playing a multiplayer strategy game on his phone, in which he leads a group of sixty other players on complex missions. For the alliance to succeed in the game, they need to communicate effectively and work together.

As do many gaming teams, Tom’s group established a communication channel outside the game to discuss strategy and delegate tasks. But like on other such channels, discussions go far beyond the actual game. Players often share personal problems, challenges in their relationships, or difficult feelings such as loneliness. The outpouring of compassion and support they receive from the group in such instances fosters powerful feelings of connection and community.

Indeed, a study of social interactions within and outside multiplayer gaming platforms found that these kinds of platforms allowed players to express themselves in ways they might not feel able to in their real lives, leading to the creation of strong friendships, long-term relationships, and even marriages. And a 2014 review by Jones et.al., concluded that video games can help gamers flourish psychologically by generating positive emotions, boosting individual functioning, and enhancing social connections, all of which contributed to mental health and well-being.

The bottom line is that while video games can be problematic and even potentially “addictive” for some people (both children and adults), and while some gaming environments can indeed be hostile, we should not throw out the gaming console with the bathwater—so to speak. As is often the case, it isn’t necessarily the thing itself that is good or bad, but how we use it that matters.

Playing games that foster emotional health and psychological recovery, and taking advantage of the connective social fabric that can form in certain gaming environments could offer valuable opportunities for supporting and enhancing our mental health and emotional well-being.

Copyright, Dr. Guy Winch

Who is Dr Guy Winch?

Guy Winch is a licensed psychologist who is a leading advocate for integrating the science of emotional health into our daily lives. His two TED Talks have been viewed over 20 million times, and his science-based self-help books have been translated into 26 languages. He also writes for PsychologyToday.com and has a private practice in New York City.

Get Advice from Dr Guy Winch

Dear Guy Advice column will launch on January 7! So send in your letters to dearguy@ted.com using these guidelines: (1) We won’t be printing reader’s names so feel free to make one up like ‘Invisible to my Boss’ or ‘Dating Disaster’. (2) Questions should be between 200-250 words long and have detail, specific examples, and context. (3) End with a clear question about the advice you need. 

Dr Guy Winch will be delivering Two x 60 Minute Sessions. Designed exclusively for Upgrade Your Life 2020!

Session 1: How to overcome fear, anxiety and other ’emotional’ obstacles that stand between you and the life you want to live. This session is an absolute MUST for anyone looking to drive behavioural and identity change by arguably one of the most compelling and practical psychologists in the world.

Session 2: How to Fix a Broken Heart. When a partner moves on, there is inevitable heartbreak that impacts your ability to function in all 8 areas of life. But does there have to be heartbreak? Dr Guy Winch shares a very powerful antidote to this affliction to help you move on. This session will liberate you from the pain, past and present. A MUST for anyone that has EVER had their heart broken.