Can Video Games Help With Depression?

How can video games help with depression? Do they have any use at all?

Back in the day, I thought that they didn’t, and that saying otherwise was nothing but wishful thinking.
I mean, what’s the point in playing video games? Depressed people don’t need even more reasons to stay alone at home, this behavior is a symptom of depression.
In that sense, video games only make depressive symptoms worse.

Tell me, of how many video game addicts have you heard?
People who sink into their video games to the point where they don’t have any hobbies aside from playing them?
Some of you would not be surprised to discover that depression is more common among ‘heavy’ gamers, research sure as heck says so!

Based on this data alone, many of you might’ve already concluded that video games contribute to depression.
They increase unfavorable behavior and they can make depression much worse.

But here’s the thing – It doesn’t have to be this way.
When used right, video games can actually improve depression and overall mental health.

Video games are relaxing and fun

“The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression.” ― Brian Sutton-Smith

Brian Sutton-smith was a researcher who tried to figure the importance of play in our daily lives.
Without going into further detail, he came to the following conclusion, one that he published in his own original book: the opposite of play is depression.

This topic is actually pretty complicated.
You see, the main idea here is that without taking the time to “play” and “relax” we will be overwhelmed by the daily events of our lives.
This, in turn, can lead to depression.

Tired and stressed people normally aren’t happy people, believe it or not.
Far from it, they tend to be irritated, unfocused and moody – not that you can blame them.
Nonstop exposure to these feelings is a major cause of depression.

Not only that, but it can also make treatment much more difficult.

Think about it for a second.
One of the symptoms of depression is a fatigue and another is negative thinking.
These two symptoms are the real problem here.

You see, most ways to treat depression are lifestyle-based.
Even with drugs and therapy, the source of change has to be you.

But that’s easier said than done.
The truth is that people who try to treat their condition, be it through antidepressants, therapy or self-help will consider the process to be a major pain, regardless of motivation or successes thus far.

Depression builds up fatigue, and this fatigue can make any attempts at helping yourself much more difficult.
There is nothing wrong with relaxing, recharging yourself, and keeping at it.

In this sense, video games are perfect – they act a great medium of relaxation.

Video game therapy

SPARX was a video game that was specifically developed to combat depression.

In-game, people faced certain trials that were meant to fight off their condition through a similar process to the one that therapists go through with their patients.

The game was meant to mimic the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy and was judged to that end in such a way.

One study, in particular, discussed the topic of SPARX and experimented with it in depth.
In this study, a group of 187 teens was split into two groups, one that was being treated with SPARX and the other was treated with regular therapy.

Through this study came a surprising conclusion – this type of therapy wasn’t inferior to regular talk therapy.
No, if anything, it was actually even more effective in comparison.

These results raise a very important question – Why does this video game put up the same results as one-on-one therapy?
If it really were this easy then surely there wouldn’t much of a need for therapists, video game copies can be scaled up and require no human contact (meaning that they are cheaper, too)

sparx helped people with depression

The video game mindset

“Gaming is the neurological opposite of depression” – Jane Mcgonigal

The answer to that question is all about the areas of the brain that are being stimulated and touched.

I already discussed the topic, but allow me to go through it in depth this time

The whole point of therapy is to access certain parts of the brain and get them to be more/less active than what they currently are.
Video games do the same, and arguably better.

Much like therapy, they work mostly on your subconscious.
They are not as prone to human error, though, so they can be considered more effective as a treatment method.

At least, in theory.

The research backs up these theories as well.
One study, for example, researches the “reward system” mechanic.
Before and after the experimentation the participants, all fifty of them, were subjected to fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging).
Similar experimentation was conducted regarding non-video-game related issues. The two were later compared one to another.

The researchers noticed a large dopamine influx, as well as brain activity, around the striatum area.
This part of your brain is the one that is responsible for motivation, something that’s critically important for people who suffer from depression.

Keep in mind, this study was based on previous studies that came to similar conclusions.
For example, another study from Stanford suggests similar results

The “learning curve” mechanic

The funny thing here is that video games are all about learning experiences, not only the “educational” ones.

Here’s the truth – every game that you play is an educational one, at least the good games are (with a few exceptions)

What do I mean?
Well, most games start off pretty easy, right? Well, relatively easy when compared to how difficult they become.

More importantly, they become progressively more difficult.
Implying that they get harder and harder as your gaming experience continues.

This is the learning curve – the game teaches you how to play it over time, you get better and better over time, just like developing a skill.
be it through trial and error or otherwise, you will improve at that game.

This is extremely important, too!
That study from Stanford University also mentioned an increase in the brain activity in the hippocampus, the part of our brain that is responsible for memory and learning.
This increase is one result of playing video games.

It should be noted that depression lowers the activity in the hippocampus, all the while video games to the complete opposite.

To put it simply, video games can directly affect your mind and change it for the better.
Assuming that they are used responsibly.

Why does it matter?

So yeah, we talked about the hippocampus and Striatum thus far, but what do those particular parts of the brain have to do with depression?


These parts of the brain are responsible for motivation, goal-orientation, and memory and they aren’t being stimulated at all when you are depressed.
This actually may lead to long-term results, as some of these parts actually shrink over a long time of being unused.

The good news is that you can overcome these damages once your treat your depression.

By stimulating certain parts of the brain, video games become the opposite, the antithesis, to depression.

Brian Sutton-Smith was right all along – the opposite of play really is depression.
So game on, my friends, just don’t get carried away!

Video games are better with friends

The real issue is that video games are being misused

At the beginning of this article, I said that depression is more common among “hardcore” gamers.
Yet every point I made thus far proved otherwise.

Gamers aren’t depressed people, depressed people are gamers.

What does this actually mean though?
Many people choose to play video games not to relax, fight off stress and improve their mood, but to escape their reality.
In their case, video games serve as nothing but a tool to create a different world than the one around them.

Then they become addicted and watch as their lives crash and burn.
This type of development causes them to sink into depression, and honestly? Who could blame them?

On the other hand, if you choose to play video games responsibly, you will find out that there are many benefits to finding in the world of gaming.

If you suffer from depression and need help then video games are one of many tools to improve your mental condition.
If you are serious about overcoming your depression then I would recommend checking out the Destroy Depression Program.
In it you will find many methods of combating the condition as a whole.

Before you do that, however, here’s a question – Do you play video games to run away from reality, or do you play only for the sake of enjoyment?

Make sure to answer this question in the comment section below, I read every single one of them!

If you got any personal questions you would like to ask me then make sure to get in touch.
I am always available through email.

Email: [email protected]

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10 Replies to “Can Video Games Help With Depression?”

  1. Thanks for the great information. First off I am a psychologist, and some of the research you shared was from studies I’m aware of, but some of it was new and you’ve given me some new stuff to follow up on. I think you’ve made some great points here and are obviously well informed and use science to back up your argument. I really appreciate that you also speak about balance, and knowing that playing for fun and playing to escape are 2 different things. Personally, I do not play video games much. Most of the time I find them boring, but every now I then I get really into something and I’ll play it it everyday for a week or so and then not touch it for months.

    1. Hello Joy, thanks for stopping by!

      I always hold the viewpoint of experts in high regard, so having your approval means a lot to me!
      Hopefully more information on this website will be informative to you!

      Cheers, Vlad!

  2. I’m proud to say I don’t own a console anymore for this exact reason. It was one of my many tools of “escape” and one I’m glad I no longer have in my life. It’s true that, like all things in life, the key is balance. Too much of anything will make you hate it and that’s definitely the case with gaming. What about pet companionship? It’s something I’ve thought would be a lot of help to people.

    1. Hello Ryan, thanks for your comment!

      I am glad to hear that, console-gaming can drive you to loneliness.
      Video games are great, but like you said, balancing them as a “hobby” with your “reality” will do you a lot of good.

      Hey, games are fun, why would you want stop doing something that you enjoy?

      Cheers, Vlad!

  3. As you and your other commenters have pointed out, balance is key. Too much of anything can be a bad thing.

    But like many things before them (like T.V., comic books, rock and roll music) they are held up by some as an example of “what’s wrong with kids these days”.
    It’s refreshing to see a reasoned approach to the subject.

    BTW- I noticed you quoted Jane Mcgonigal. Maybe you’ve seen her TEDTalk or read her book. She has a lot to say about the benefits of gaming (not just for helping depression).

    1. Hello Joe, what’s up?

      I actually listend to both her TEDtalk as well as read her book.
      Her point of view is very interesting to me, yet to cover everything that video games can do to the mind would take a pretty long time.

      Cheers, Vlad!

  4. I used to think video games are too boring to help with depression, but recently began playing games that challenge me intellectually by making me come up with strategies to overcome obstacles which gives me a sense of satisfaction I haven’t felt from other things. I can see how this can help with depression.

    1. Hello Kent,

      To each his own! Evidently, many people like playing video games precisely because they find them enjoyable.

      Still, it’s important to make sure that you play video games for the right reason, and not because you have crippling social anxiety, for example.

      Cheers, Vlad!

  5. This is an interesting take. I definitely think there is a balance. I’ve found that when I have no time for just chilling, I do get pretty anxious. Gaming is a great outlet for this and is something that I find very therapeutic in stressful times. But you can overdo it and I think we should be mindful about it.

    1. Hello Jake

      I am glad to hear about your personal experiences and agree completely.
      Gaming can get very addicting an unhealthy if consumed for too long, with it being a way out rather than a source of comfort.

      Cheers, Vlad!

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