Video Games and Mental Health: Risk Factors and Benefits


Turning on your game console at the end of a long day might seem like a stress reliever, but can video games cause depression too?

When people think of the consequences of video games, they often think specifically of the violence of video games. Does it affect children? And if so, what is too much?

In truth, the world of video games is vast. Violent games are only a small part of what’s available. Puzzle, adventure, survival and exploration games all have a large following.

Whatyou play may not be as important as the intensity with which you play. But can playing video games really cause depression?

Video games can have both a positive and negative impact on your mental health.

When you pick up this controller or plug into your gaming system, game selection is only a small factor in the overall gaming experience.

Your current state of mind, how long or hard you play, and why you play are all factors that contribute to how a video game affects you.

According to a Survey 2019 of people who play video games, about 80% said the game provided them with mental stimulation, relaxation, and stress relief.

The game and the brain

Excessive gambling, also called problem gambling, is generally associated with adverse mental health effects.

It is a level of play characterized by an abundance of time spent in the game, often at the expense of other basic necessities of life, such as eating, sleeping, or going to the bathroom.

A 2017 systematic review links excessive gambling to psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), particularly in young adults and adults.

But it’s important to note that a link doesn’t necessarily mean the game is causing these things.

People living with certain mental health issues may also turn to introverted activities like games.

And it’s been proven that playing video games can be good for you.

In other systematic review 2017 On gaming and the brain, the results suggest that playing video games creates several functional and structural changes in the brain, including alterations in neural reward pathways and increased visuospatial thinking.

Research has not established a direct cause and effect relationship between gambling and depression, but gambling and depression may overlap.

Internet gaming disorder

Internet gaming disorder (IGD) is a diagnosis included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR).

Although it is a recognized mental health condition, the inclusion of IGD in the DSM-5-TR is still heavily debated, as some experts believe that it is a condition with characteristics similar to addictive disorders.

As with other substance use conditions, gambling in IGD can trigger your brain’s reward system, creating a cycle of addictive behaviors.

IGD also often occurs with depression, hostility, and social anxiety.


The use of virtual worlds to escape is aptly called escapism, which has links to both positive and negative psychological outcomes.

Like many things, too escape can become problematic. The data of a Meta-analysis 2021 suggested that excessive escapism can lead to depression and addictive gambling behaviors.

social addiction

A study 2021 involving a sample of 457 Chinese gamers of a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) suggested that playing with an online social network may fulfill a human need for support and affiliation.

It can build lasting relationships and bridge social gaps that may exist in the offline world.

But social connectedness can become problematic when gambling provides a sense of fulfillment that encourages excessive gambling, or IGD, which may have links to depression.

Negative social engagement

Not all online interactions are favorable. Some game environments may subject you to more open negativity and confrontation than others.

There may also be pressure to perform in a team dynamic. Failing to meet your expectations – or those of your teammates – can create the same negative feelings as letting someone down in the offline world.

Excessive screen time

There’s also evidence that too much screen time can have a profound impact on your mental health.

A report 2017 Two national surveys of American teenagers have suggested that the more time teenagers spend looking at electronic devices, the more likely they are to suffer from depression or suicidal ideation.

While “screen time” can involve television and smartphone use, it also applies to the gaming world.

The game is not only bloody and confrontational, but even though it has these elements, you can still benefit from the game time.

Relief from depression and anxiety

Casual games, which involve playing for short periods of time, can have the opposite effect of excessive gambling and help with depression and anxiety.

According to a systematic review 2020easy to use, casual video games provide a fun mood boost that can benefit mental health, especially when it comes to anxiety, depression, and low mood.

Improved self-esteem

A review of studies from 2021 links 10 to 90 minutes of activity-based video gaming per day to positive mental health, higher self-esteem, increased energy expenditure, and improved physical activity.

brain training

The discoveries of a systematic review 2018 suggested that playing action-puzzle video games can help train your brain in emotional skills and areas of cognition, such as:

  • reaction time
  • task change
  • multitasking
  • mental spatial rotation

The following tips can help you protect your mental health while continuing to enjoy your favorite hobby:

  • get plenty of quality sleep
  • take regular breaks
  • do not neglect basic needs, such as eating
  • keep online interactions positive
  • offer consideration when loved ones express concerns about time spent gambling
  • engage in other non-gaming activities that you enjoy
  • cultivate additional stress relief strategies, such as exercise or meditation
  • assess how you feel during and when you are not playing video games
  • stay social with family and friends offline
  • setting alarms for scheduled offline times
  • logging
  • limit electronic screen time

If gambling is interfering with your relationships or impairing your daily functions, speaking with a mental health professional may be helpful.

In addition to exploring Internet gaming addiction and the impact games have on your life, a professional can help you manage symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions.

Video games are a rewarding source of entertainment for many people. Gambling is an interactive experience that can positively and negatively affect mental health.

Although there is no direct cause and effect relationship between video games and depression, research supports an association.

How long you play games, who you play with, and why you seek out games are all factors that can influence the role gambling has on your mental health.

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