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From Animal Crossing to Final Fantasy, video games can ease individual stress

A full year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic, millions of people have had to stay at home and find new forms of entertainment or turn back to their old hobbies. Video games were a highly favoured form of escape.

Video games are often seen as a form of relaxation, almost like a reward after a long day at work or school. But in the present context of COVID-19, people use them more as a stress reliever from their day-to-day homeschooling and telecommuting as well as a way to meet new people. 

“Video games give me a sense of achievement that I would not get outside,” said Clara Sedzo, a fourth-year political science student at McGill University. “Especially with COVID-19, I find it hard to feel productive or see value outside of work and I feel that video games help with this.” 

Consequently, the gaming industry has seen record sales in recent months as more people are told to stay at home. In turn, video games have become a tool to help society gather and bond with old friends or meet new ones while respecting COVID-19 standards. To Andrew Boctor, a fourth-year political science student, video games are a good source to take your mind off things, forget about reality for a short while and let go. 

“It creates a safer place where someone who feels stressed or has life problems can escape and spend some time with his friends and forgets about the rest,” he said. 

For Zach Goldstein, a fourth-year biotechnology student and co-president of the U of O’s Esports club, video games allow people to open up, especially people who are having a hard time with school.

“We’ve [become] sort of a haven of sport for people who are having a tough time dealing with school, especially in the first-year category, because they can find like-minded individuals to play video games with,” he said.

For Goldstein, gaming is seen as more of a help than a hindrance in terms of self-therapy “because the opportunity to escape difficulties surrounding your life is almost invaluable.” 

Besides the human aspect, there is an educational aspect. Video games are a great source of learning; they initiate the “discovery of real or fictional worlds and learning new things [and] developing skills” said a fourth-year U of O student. 

It also promotes technology exploration, helps develop patience through repetition and it even helps developing reasoning and logic skills. Having to make important decisions throughout certain games can allow players to develop ethical and moral judgment. Against all odds, video games can give great life lessons. For example, games can teach that failure is inevitable and to adapt accordingly by developing coping skills. In fact, players are probably confronted with many failures during their playing time, which would encourage them to develop new survival tactics and thus develop their capacity to adapt and understand that the most important thing is not to fall but to get up again.

Talking about the cognitive aspect, research from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, M.A., has proven video games were an important tool in psychotherapy due to their widespread popularity. In the medical world, their calming properties help young patients be more cooperative. 

This seems to be accurate to some students like Clara Sedzo that finds “Some games very soothing with their music and graphics.”

The importance of balance

Video games certainly have their positive points but it should not be forgotten that anything done excessively is a danger, especially to mental and physical health. 

As part of 10 negative effects of video games, excessive gaming playing can lead to physical pain but also mental. It can produce a dopamine addiction and alexithymia, an emotion due to constant suppression of negative emotions such as fear, worry, or shame. 

“[Gaming can] allow your mind to recover, your outlook and attitude to be the best it can be especially during difficult times,” Goldensteinsaid, discussing balancing screen time. 

“But if you dedicate your entire day to gaming and put aside other [important] aspect[s] of life, it can be detrimental.” 

In this regard, research has shown excessive video playing often leads to negative emotions, low self-esteem, a preference for solitude, and poor school performance. It can also create a social disconnection and relationship issues with people surrounding you who don’t necessarily play video games. 

In attempts to combat this, it is generally advised to set limits to how much screen time you consume and try to be involved in other activities outside video gaming. This is often achieved by doing internal reflection.

“[When] dealing with the video games as self-therapy, you need to look at the individual and how self-disciplined they are. If my mom didn’t tell me every second ‘you got to go to class’, I would’ve dropped out in grade 11 to get really good at League of Legends,” said Andrew Leblanc, the vice-president of the U of O Esports club.

“If one is using games as a self-therapy it could become a self-harm … but if one is intelligent with how they supposedly use video games as an escapism, then it is something that is incredibly important to development.”