The Healing Power of Video Games

Video games are a powerful way we can engage in the practice of mindfulness. It draws all our attention to the present moment and focuses it. It also engages our body and emotional space and draws on our creative energy, thereby pulling us out of anxious thoughts and head space. It’s not a cure to depression and anxiety, but I’ve found video games helpful in my own journey of discovering who I am, how to heal, and how to follow my dreams.

1. Video games teach us creativity is okay. In the physical world, we as adults often encounter a lot of rules, “shoulds,” and are taught to follow our head. For myself, when I went to college to study writing, I learned there are so many errors I “should” avoid that I became paralyzed and have since had trouble writing. Playing video games reminds that creativity, being different, weirdness, and wonder are okay.

2. Video games offer community. If you have trouble opening up or feel lonely, a video game community can be an awesome means of support. It can also help you learn how you like to socialize, what works and what doesn’t, who to steer clear of, and who and how to trust. It can allow you to reach out and open up without fear of being too vulnerable or “not good enough.” This can teach you a lot about how relationships work even in the physical world and how to be yourself. Of course, some video games don’t have helpful communities, so pick them with care and know it’s okay to be choosy!

3. Video games help us feel capable. Depression and anxiety, even low self-esteem, can make us feel helpless and as if we can’t do anything right. Completing quests in video games, helping out our friends, building something, or growing a skill set can help us remember that we do have some power and that we are capable of a lot. Hopefully we can hold that knowledge close and know that who we are in the physical world is just as wonderful and powerful as who we are in the game.

4. Video games help us move out of our head. Anxiety loves to nestle in the head space. So does depression or low self-esteem. Thoughts race, or maybe a bully voice pipes up and refuses to pipe down. Negative dialogue loves to interrupt you, but a video game can serve to pull you out of that head space and enter a space of creativity, laughter, and purpose. In this way, video games can teach you the art of mindfulness and remind you that you can pull yourself out of your head if you want and enjoy who you are at your core.

5. Video games offer hope. In a world that sometimes seems to feed off negativity, where things can feel boxed in or rigid, and in a culture that honors head space over creative space, video games can help you find hope that your creativity, your core self, your weird sense of humor, and your dreams all have a very important place in the world. There are many video games that don’t fit the box (Undertale) or draw heavily on creativity (Minecraft) or following your dreams (Zoo Tycoon) or becoming who you want to be and enjoying all the good around you (World of Warcraft or Breathe of the Wild).

6. Video games remind us to play. Play is so important. When I felt I was “too old” to play with toys, I naturally turned to video games (which, for some reason, is “acceptable” for adults, though it follows the same concept as sitting down with several toys and your imagination to hand) because play is important, no matter your age. It’s not something to be outgrown, and sometimes we believe it’s something we need to leave behind as we age. Bullshit. Play to your heart’s content and know that play can be one of the most meaningful, and, in my opinion, healthy things there is.

7. Video games remind us to laugh. Video games like Octodad, Gang Beasts, and the Sims help us laugh. Even more serious games often incorporate humor, even if it’s just a glitch. Like play, it reminds you of the importance of laughing and delighting in the humor around you. Better, it also presents you with many opportunities to do just that.

8. Video games teach us life lessons, akin to those found in self-help books. Many video games share a deeper message in a way we can really resonate and feel it not only in our head space but on an inner level. I’m thinking of JRPGs, especially, such as Crooked Man. Other games, such as Alan Wake, or Beyond Two Souls, also come to mind. These games often convey a message or realization at the end that sinks deep because it’s in story form and because you’ve become a part of that story. This is an excellent way to learn and incorporate these messages into yourself to raise self-esteem, love for others, or the power to believe in yourself and your dreams.

9. Video games teach us to feel. Even if we struggle with emotion in real life, video games can help us experience and walk through a variety of emotions in a format that allows us to accept them, move through them, and learn from them. Whether it be a horror game, or a game where you experience grief or joy or healing. We laugh, cry, and feel. And that is so important, especially when we struggle to access our emotions or are afraid we can’t handle them if they emerge.

10. Video games help our subconscious unleash its ability to heal. Our subconscious knows how to heal, but sometimes our head gets in the way (or helps!). When we play video games and move from head space to creative space, we engage the subconscious and allow healing to move on its own in a positive environment. This is similar to the healing painters find while painting or writers while writing or dog lovers while cuddling a puppy on their lap. This healing moves at a deeper level, with very little guidance.

Keep in mind, as with anything else, not all video games will accomplish the above goals, just as not all diets will work for your body or not all types of art appeal to you. Balance is important, as well as an awareness of when you are using video games to distract or numb (you can do this with anything, however, including books, taking walks, or listening to podcasts). Video games have a vast ability to heal, teach, and foster growth, acceptance, love, communication, and change. They allow us to discover who we are, grow as people, follow our dreams, connect with others, and find our own meaning in this life. To me, that’s vastly important, and I’m so grateful video games have allowed me to heal, move forward, believe in myself, and create.

What about you?: What video games do you play? How have they impacted you?

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