There are a lot of good and bad qualities when it comes to gaming, often resulting in a fine line between the two for some people. But don’t go dismissing gaming just yet.
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The media often seems to focus on the supposed bad sides of gaming, and research into this is little different. Research often only focuses on the bad effects of playing video games, especially violent video games, which is likely causing a publication bias, even though the literature is often inconsistent (Jones, Scholes, Johnson, Katsikitis, and Carras, 2014).
Both the media and researchers collapse all video gamers into a simplistic archetype, which allows for making sweeping generalisations of potentially deviant behaviours or consequences (addiction and aggression), but ignores the fact that different people choose to play video games for different reasons, with the same videogame having different meanings or consequences for different players (Yee, 2006). This is what makes individual differences so important in mental health.
The Good Bits Of Gaming
There are many positive effects of gaming and playing video games in general, with some of these benefits being clinical and educational (Grüsser, Thalemann, and Griffith, 2007).
A study by National Literacy Trust conducted on 4,626 young British people aged between 11-16, who filled in a survey through BounceTogether, found that 65% (2 in 3) said gaming helped them develop empathy by being able to imagine being someone else.
These same young people also said that gaming helped them deal with or escaped stress and other difficult emotions, thus helping them with their wellbeing. Although it should be noted that avoiding difficult emotions isn’t a good practice in the long run, as this is how addictive behaviours can start.
Video games can also provide a way into reading and improve confidence in reading as well as encouraging creativity. Support for these findings comes from Granic, Lobel, and Engels (2014), who reported that gaming boosts learning, benefits a lot of cognitive skills (spatial skills, problem-solving, etc.) and helps to manage moods or enhances them.
The social nature of online gaming also provides gamers with opportunities to develop and maintain positive relationships (Jones, Scholes, Johnson, Katsikitis, and Carras, 2014). So, for example, in a lot of video games, you can play in teams or join guilds which allows you to develop friendships through helping and supporting each other because you want your team and guildmates to do well, so you also do well. Support for this comes from Jones, Scholes, Johnson, Katsikitis, and Carras (2014), who stated that positive gaming relationships are associated with social and emotional support.
Yee (2006) conducted a study that collected data from 3,000 MMORPG players through various surveys which targeted players from games like EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online, and Star Wars Galaxies. The analysis of the data showed that these gamers enjoyed socialising and helping other players, liked forming long-term friendships with other players in the games, and got satisfaction from working in a team to achieve goals.
As you can probably imagine, if online gaming can help people connect with each other and form friendships, then people who feel lonely or lack social skills would also benefit. Online gaming can thus provide an alternative to uncomfortable everyday offline interactions (Lemmens, Valkenburg, and Peter, 2011). However, this is very much a double-edged sword. It’s perfectly fine to make friends and socialise through online gaming, but it becomes a problem if that replaces other forms of socialising and friendships.
According to Jones, Scholes, Johnson, Katsikitis, and Carras (2014), playing with your real-life friends in games like WoW, allowed players to strengthen friendships and transfer positive gaming experiences into real life, reducing the risk of problematic gaming by developing an addiction and becoming more lonely and isolated.
Furthermore, a study by Williams et al. (2006) found that roughly 60% of the gamers they interviewed belonged to a social guild, which is a guild where the goals of the game are secondary to social interactions. What’s more, they found that these social interactions, especially in small guilds, were extensions of their real-world social bonds.
As gamers grow to number 1 billion people, a review of the literature suggests that gaming has the potential to improve life satisfaction and improve gamers’ mental wellbeing (Jones, Scholes, Johnson, Katsikitis, and Carras, 2014).
Gaming isn’t just a young person’s game, people of any age can enjoy and benefit from gaming. Over the last few years, the so-called Gaming Grandmas have been making the news, with one even making it into the Guinness World Records. The world record breaker, Hamako, says gaming rejuvenates her spirit, and during these times of coronavirus, having such an outlet for entertainment is more important than ever. If you want to check out this 90-year-old’s gaming, you can do so by clicking here.
The Bad Bits Of Gaming
As already stated, there are studies that have focused on trying to find the bad bits of gaming, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist at all. So the following is a list of the bad bits of gaming.
The benefits of playing video games can quickly become a problem if you’re not careful. Gaming can require a lot of your time to play, and if you’re trying to compete against other players online, that can eat up a lot of your time. I know that too well myself, but I’ve also struggled with mental health issues since I was in primary school.
A definition of gaming addiction comes from Weinstein (2010), whereby excessive gaming that interferes with everyday life is an addiction. Where gamers play compulsively, which can cause isolation, and reduce other forms of social contact, with the gamers’ focus being on in-game achievements over real-world ones and events. You might have noticed that I touched up this in ‘Hikikomori: Social Anxiety Or Modern-Day Hermits?‘.
Many of the potential problems with gaming are associated with excessive amounts of time playing and existing lower psychosocial wellbeing (Jones, Scholes, Johnson, Katsikitis, and Carras, 2014). People with low psychosocial wellbeing and mental wellbeing, in general, are at a higher risk of developing an addiction to gaming in order to fill a void.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg (it’s the egg, by the way)? Is gaming the cause or the consequence of poor wellbeing? This question about gaming has often been overlooked in research on gaming addiction. However, Lemmens, Valkenburg, and Peter (2011) sort to address this oversight, conducting a study on 851 Dutch adolescents of which 543 were gamers. Two main findings were found which could lead to gaming addiction. Those suffering from loneliness, have low self-esteem and lack of social confidence, were predicted characteristics that could lead to gaming addiction six months later. The other finding was that loneliness is both a cause and a consequence of gaming addiction. Thus, the results of this study found that low psychosocial wellbeing preceded gaming addiction six months later, which then caused real-world relationships to deteriorate, increasing feelings of loneliness.
It’s so easy to go from a healthy amount of playing video games to grinding a video game like it’s a full-time job. If you earn enough money, you may be able to get away with spending money to get ahead, rather than having to grind, but if you’re poor like I am, you can end up having to grind 12+ hours a day, every day, to complete with people who are willing to spend money to get ahead.
Wes, writing for YoungMinds, found that out for himself. Even though gaming helped him with his mental health, providing an escape from the stresses of being a student, he also found that this coping mechanism got out of hand. Which can so easily be done. Luckily, Wes got his gaming habit under control.
A questionnaire study conducted by von der Heiden, Braun, Müller, and Egloff (2019) on 2,734 participants, 2,377 male and 357 female (which unfortunately is very male-centric), sort to find relations between personality and psychological health and gaming habits. Their results found a moderately sized relation between possible problematic gaming and low psychological functioning (maladaptive coping, low self-esteem, preference for being alone, etc). Thus, this supports the findings of Lemmens, Valkenburg, and Peter (2011) and Jones, Scholes, Johnson, Katsikitis, and Carras (2014).
Further support for this comes from a big questionnaire study by Grüsser, Thalemann, and Griffiths (2007) who sort to investigate gaming addiction and aggression among 7,069 participant gamers. The results found that 11.9% or 840 gamers met the criteria for gaming addiction, but only found weak evidence of a link between addiction and aggression.
Just to hammer the point home with gaming addiction, more support comes from Teng et al. (2020) who conducted a longitudinal study on 1,054 17-21-year-old university students who were only 41.2% male, which makes a nice change for gaming research. The results of this study showed that gaming addiction was a maladaptive response to poor psychosocial wellbeing, further supporting the above gaming addiction studies.
In short, if you’re psychologically unwell and have a void to fill, anything can become an addiction, even food through comfort eating, which I accidentally caused myself to develop. Be mindful of your gaming time and that you’re playing for the right reasons. If you’re unsure, try taking a break and see how it affects you.
As stated in Grüsser, Thalemann, and Griffiths (2007) study, there was only weak evidence of a connection between gaming addiction and violence. This is supported by Ferguson‘s (2015) meta-analysis of video games and violence, finding that they have a minimal deleterious influence on children’s well-being. Ferguson also found that there is a problem with researchers’ degrees of freedom, citation, and publication bias (Jones, Scholes, Johnson, Katsikitis, and Carras, 2014) when studying gaming and violence.
The Guardian reported on a study by the Royal Society Open Science, stating that a reanalysis of 21,000 young people from around the world, found that gaming doesn’t lead to violence or aggression.
Violence has always existed. Before some sections of society blamed it on gaming, they blamed it on cartoons, music, and comics. So-called moral panics where they don’t want to look at how society needs to change and instead fixate on a scapegoat.
Although the toxic nature of trolls isn’t the game’s fault, it is still a very serious problem. Dealing with these members of the gaming community can be difficult.
A definition for trolling comes from Golf-Papez and Veer (2017), who say it involves deliberate, deceptive, and mischievous attempts to provoke reactions from fellow gamers.
To further add to the definition of trolling, Komaç and Çağıltay (2019) provided a list of types of trolling behaviours, which are:
- Faking/intentional fallacy.
- Inappropriate roleplaying.
According to Hilvert-Bruce and Neill (2020), men are more likely to experience certain types of online harassment like verbal abuse, whereas women experienced more severe forms, such as stalking, sexual harassment, and sustained harassment. Unsurprisingly, Women also reported higher levels of emotional distress than men as a result of the types of abuse they suffer.
A disturbing, yet interesting, study by Hilvert-Bruce and Neill (2020) performed a survey on 1,646 gamers from across the world and found that gamers have a higher tolerance for online aggression, such as trolling. This is sad to hear because that probably means gamers are so used to trolls in games that they’ve accepted it as being something you have to put up with in order to play online.
Misogyny, racism, and homophobia are all too common in gaming. The worst example of this kind of behaviour, which you might remember, was GamerGate, where an anti-women hate narrative became incredibly toxic. The amount of racist and homophobic comments you see during a game can be a real put-off. Although I’ve rarely seen misogyny personally, I’m well aware it’s a huge problem.
Ferguson and Glasgow (2020) proposed two camps for the unacceptable behaviour that arose during GamerGate, and in gaming in general. The first is those who have these strong feelings about the particular issue at hand and true feelings of misogyny toward women in gaming. The second is made up of people trolling for the sake of trolling without caring about the issues. In short, the latter just doing it for the enjoyment of agitating someone. Both types, in this case, need to disappear.
McLean and Griffiths (2019) conducted a study that explored the female gamers’ experience, collecting data from 271 female gamers from online discussion forum posts.
Of the 271 female gamers, 18 said the misogyny had gotten so bad that they preferred to play alone, with the majority of female gamers saying they’d experienced negative interactions while gaming. A total of 74 said they’d endured harassment by male gamers, with 24 saying theirs was sexual harassment, 5 being stalked by males online, and 2 being stalked offline.
18 stated they played alone to protect themselves from the anxiety caused by previous encounters of playing with others, even though they find the gameplay less enjoyable to do so.
75 of those 271 female gamers hide their identity and stay silent on mic chats, even recommending this as a strategy for female gamers to protect themselves.
These figures might not seem like a lot, but no one should feel like that when gaming. I know such behaviours put me off playing with other people, and don’t play voice chat games because of it. Let people enjoy gaming for what it is meant to be, a fun immersive experience for all.
Swatting and doxing
Swatting is where someone calls in a fake emergency that requires an armed police response. A 16-year-old Fortnite champ was swatted during a live stream which could have resulted in them being killed in 2019. But sometimes the targets of swatting aren’t always that lucky. A 19-year-old had a fellow gamer’s home swatted, which resulted in the death of that person.
Doxing is where someone obtains private and confidential information about another person and shares it publically in order to abuse them. This may mean someone hacking you or tricking you into giving them the information they can use against you to ruin the life of that person.
Much like social media and other online activities, children can be at risk of grooming. A 41-year-old man from the US attempted to groom children on Minecraft with cash, a mobile phone, and other gifts. For more information and support, you can visit ChildLine’s page on online grooming by clicking here.
Gambling (Loot crates)
Loot crates, or loot boxes as they’re sometimes known, have been in the news a lot over the last few years, but why is that? Well, the media and politicians have claimed that they’re a form of gambling, which can also be addictive. According to The Guardian, the House of Commons committee advised for Loot crates to be regulated as gambling and for children to be banned from being able to buy them.
CadenceLikesVGs, who spoke to The Verge said they spent $10,000 over several years buying loot crates. They eventually realised that they had a problem, but just think about what they could have done with that money instead.
I personally hate loot crates, ignoring the other issues with how they can drain money from your bank account. It can ruin the gameplay by turning every single online game into a pay-to-win game. I’ve quit playing a lot of games because of loot crates because it can be impossible to compete, and even if you’re willing to spend every waking moment playing the game to try and compete with the spenders, the playing field often still doesn’t level out. I avoid any game made by EA because of this issue. This is especially true if you’ve already spent £60 buying the game. No one should then be required to keep spending to get the most from the game.
The majority of the bad bits of gaming have little to do with the games themselves (except loot crates) and more to do with the people that play them. The social aspect of online gaming can be both good and bad, but that has nothing to do with the game and everything to do with the players. So don’t blame the games for the terrible behaviours of some players.
Also, learn to moderate your gaming if you have mental health issues, and if you are suffering from isolation and loneliness, please reach out and get support in the real world. Gaming is meant to be fun and not a replacement for real life. There are a lot of support services out there. Please take advantage of them so you can live a better quality of life.
My Experience With Gaming
I won’t talk too long about this as this article is already pretty long, so don’t worry. Gaming has been a part of my life pretty much from the get-go. I used it to not only cope with my life as a kid but also as a way to have friends. If I had the newest or the best game on the street, then my friends would come over to mine, otherwise, they’d go to hang out with other kids.
Because my childhood did a number on me, it was pretty easy for me to develop issues around gaming. I’ve used gaming to escape from my life, which was a godsend in the world of shit I had to grow up in. I used to game so much that I would see images of the game during my non-gaming life and even dream about it.
However, as an adult, online gaming came with more significant issues. In order to compete with people who had money to burn to get ahead in online games, I had to grind to be competitive because I was too poor to spend money.
For years, my life revolved around meeting my gaming requirements, which often meant getting up and gaming for 14 hours straight and then going to bed. It was so easy to fill the void inside me with gaming that it became its own full-time job of grinding mind-numbing tasks over and over again. I try to avoid those kinds of games now, as they’re not worth the time and I’m never willing to pay to get ahead – how’s that even fun?
Using Gaming For Good
Nowadays, you can make a living from gaming by having a gaming channel or live streaming on platforms like YouTube. However, you can also use your love of gaming to help a good cause. Charities such as Mind and Macmillan Cancer Support now do gaming fundraisers, and if you’re interested in helping out a good cause by doing a gaming stream, then go check out how to do it by clicking here for Mind and here for Macmillan Cancer Support.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences of gaming and its effect on your mental health in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children)
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