The Young and Well CRC Gaming Research Group published a comprehensive review on research linking videogames to flourishing mental health, responding to concerns about the potential negative effects of gaming. They summarise their findings:
“Existing research suggests that videogames contribute to young people’s emotional, social and psychological wellbeing… videogames have been shown to positively influence young people’s emotional state, self-esteem, optimism, vitality, resilience, engagement, relationships, sense of competence … and social connections and functioning.”
Johnson et al. (2013)
They continue to discuss gaming in a nuanced fashion:
“Emerging research suggests that how young people play as well as whom they play with may be more important in terms of wellbeing than what they play. Further research is needed to explore key questions including the moderating influence of personal characteristics on the relationship between videogames and wellbeing and extending existing research by replicating findings across game types, demographic samples and play environments.”
The review discuses evidence to support a positive role for gaming in emotional intelligence and control, building of healthy relationships and social capital, including between those from marginalised groups, and improvements in self-esteem.
Evidence suggests that even violent games can have creative, social and emotional benefits. The degree of violence is not a key factor in determining enjoyment, through the review does suggest that further research might concentrate on the ways in which character selection, game choices and styles of play may influence wellbeing.
Frequency of play did not significantly relate to body mass index or school performance. Gaming can be a successful play therapy tool, helping young people change their views of themselves and others through game metaphors, such as collecting attributes or conquering tasks.
In New Zealand, the development of SPARX, a game-based method of delivering computerised CBT, harnessed the benefits of fantasy games. A controlled trial of SPARX found it was effective and a potential alternative to usual care for adolescents presenting with depressive symptoms in primary care settings. It could be used to address some of the unmet demand for treatment.
“SPARX is an interactive fantasy game designed to deliver [CBT] for the treatment of clinically significant depression. It utilises both first person instruction and a three dimensional interactive game in which the young person chooses an avatar and undertakes a series of challenges to restore the balance in a fantasy world dominated by gnats (gloomy negative automatic thoughts).”
Merry et al. (2012)