Gaming is perhaps the world's most famous pastime right now, and that couldn't be further from the truth. With the pandemic forcing a lot of people to stay indoors for both work and recreation, what else can they really do to while away the time? 

Gaming nintendo switch
(Photo : Getty Images )

People's mental health has also been affected by how tough the past two years have been. And many of them have increasingly turned to gaming as a way to cope and deal with their mental health. 

This, in turn, has led to a massive boom in the popularity of gaming, especially since last year.

Data posted by FinancesOnline (via Newzoo) estimated that by the end of 2020, there were over 2.5 billion people in the world playing video games. This has also resulted in gaming revenues reaching more than $159 billion. 

But why is that? The answer lies in how games are designed.

According to clinical psychologist Kelli Dunlap (via Microsoft), gaming helps people with mental health issues by giving them a way to relax, connect with other people, and feel like they're good at something. 

Gaming Makes People Feel Like They Matter

Video games are an interactive medium. Unlike movies and TV shows, this type of medium makes people feel like they're a part of the world. It makes them feel that their decisions matter. 

For somebody coping with a mental illness, this could be a great thing because, according to Dunlap, it gives them power over the world around them (in this case, the game world), alongside an overall sense of accomplishment. 

Anyone who's suffering from mental health issues knows how it feels to be powerless in the real world; like nobody else cares about what you do and who you are. 

Depression
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But inside the world of a video game, where players often take up the roles of heroes and "Chosen Ones," there's a constant positive feedback loop that can, as per Dunlap, completely counteract the negative thoughts associated with illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. 

Read also: How To Buy the Best Controller for PC Gaming 2021

Gaming Has Been Exploring Mental Health Issues Itself In-Depth 

In 2017, the game "Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice" from the UK-based studio Ninja Theory provided what could be the most detailed look at mental illness in the format of a video game story. 

Gaming hellblade
(Photo : Steam )

It featured the titular protagonist, Senua, who is a warrior suffering from psychosis, trying to tackle the challenges posed by both her mind and body.

After seeing a lot of success, "Hellblade" actually inspired Ninja Theory to come up with a program called The Insight Project. 

According to The Verge, the project aims to use technologies involved with game development and design, mix them with clinical neuroscience, then use what they learn to try developing innovative therapy techniques to treat mental disorders. 

With this venture, Ninja Theory certainly made it clear that gaming is no longer about just killing people and "teaching kids to be violent." 

It's Not All About Good Things, Of Course 

The health benefits of gaming are already well-documented by this point. But like with almost everything, too much of something tends to be bad for you. And gaming is no exception. 

A passage in an article on YoungMinds UK sums it up perfectly:

"If your hobby is causing you stress and anger or you're using it as a coping mechanism to forget about the world around you, then it may be worth thinking about." 

Gaming can help improve your mental health, especially in trying times. That's a given. But it's important to do it in moderation.

There's a reason that the World Health Organization has classified gaming addiction as a mental health illness. Video games work best if they provide you a temporary escape, and not as a complete replacement for the real world. 

Related: Video Games 101: How to Choose the Video Game Platform that is Best For You

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Written by RJ Pierce

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