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Count Chocula
Dec 25, 2011


There's a rare interesting article from Kotaku. It feels like games are a trap, presenting a world where everything goes right. Personally I limit myself to a few hours of gaming a week, and I've set up my life so I don't have time to play much. Its neat that it's being studied.


Until recently, I had never considered the idea that my gaming habit, which could charitably be described as heavy, could be harmful to my mental health. It wasn’t just that I dismissed that idea; the idea had never popped into my head.

But as psychological professionals debate whether or not “gaming addiction” should be listed as a condition in the next update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the psychological Bible) — and as I finally take my mental health seriously — I am re-evaluating that idea. I’m re-evaluating it, even though my psychiatrist and my therapist have never discussed gaming as an issue.

Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of scientific data, in the form of psychological studies, to help me out in my journey of self-discovery. There are, however, a few researchers who are intent on studying the possible link between gaming and mental disorders like depression. I spoke with two of them to get a more personal perspective than I would have gotten from simply reading their work.


The first researcher is Dr. Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University. He and a handful of other researchers, performed a study a few years back that was published in the journal Pediatrics. It was called Pathological Video Game Use Among Youths: A Two-Year Longitudinal Study. (A longitudinal study looks at one group of subjects over time.) In this study, they looked at the gaming habits of schoolchildren in Singapore over the course of two years to try to determine if what they refer to as “pathological gaming” has an impact on the subjects’ lives and mental health.

They found a definite correlation between heavy gaming and symptoms of depression.

“I was expecting to find that the depression led to gaming,” Gentile told me. “But we found the opposite in that study. The depression seemed to follow the gaming. As kids became addicted — if you want to use that word — then their depression seemed to get worse. And, as they stopped being addicted, the depression seemed to lift.”
Gentile: “I was expecting to find that the depression led to gaming. But we found the opposite in that study.”

Despite the evidence, Gentile didn’t quite buy that.

“I don’t really think [the depression] is following. I think it’s truly comorbid. When a person gets one disorder, they often get more. If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a year or two later you might end up with anxiety problems or social phobias. They all start interacting with each other and make each other worse. [The test subjects' gaming 'addiction' and mental health problems] are close enough in time that they’re probably affecting each other. As you get more depressed you retreat more into games, which doesn’t help, because it doesn’t actually solve the problem. It doesn’t help your depression, so your depression gets worse, so you play more games, so your depression gets worse, etc. It becomes a negative spiral.”

The other researcher I talked do is one Daniel Loton, a PhD candidate at Victoria University in Australia. His study is also longitudinal, but over five months instead of two years. The other main difference is that the participants in this study are older, with an average age of 25.

Loton’s study, which also looks into a link between gaming and mental health, has not yet been published, and, indeed, he has not even completed analysis of all the data in his surveys. So far, he has only fully analysed how a gaming habit relates to a person’s coping style. For the purposes of this discussion, that is perfect, because Gentile’s study did not examine gaming as a coping mechanism.

Just so we’re clear, Loton defines coping styles as “constantly-changing cognitive and behavioural effort to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person.” More or less, that simply means how a person deals with profound stress in general.

There are three terms you need to know here: approach, distraction and withdrawal. Approach coping would be a person utilising his or her support circle (family, friends, etc.) when dealing with problems, and, if he or she is suffering from a mental illness, seeing mental health professionals for treatment. Distraction coping is when a person attempts to, ahem, distract himself or herself from their problems for short periods of time. Withdrawal coping is essentially not coping at all; when you withdraw, you aren’t even trying to help your situation because you’ve given up hope.

In Loton’s study, he found that the link between a person’s gaming habits and his or her mental health is bridged by that person’s coping style. Loton asserts that whether or not a person’s gaming habit can be considered unhealthy — whether or not he or she is pathological, as Gentile would say — correlates strongly with coping style. If a person tends to utilise approach coping, then his gaming habits probably won’t negatively impact his life, even if he does what others might consider to be an excessive amount of gaming. If a person usually withdraws, on the other hand, then he is more likely to become a pathological gamer while also having what Loton calls poorer mental health outcomes.


When I lost my job in January, I struggled immensely. For the next few weeks, I would spend an hour or so a day looking for more work, while devoting the rest of my day to playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. It was absurd and definitely out of the ordinary for me, but I was depressed. That’s how I dealt with it.

Given that anecdote falls well within the realm of the studies mentioned above, I shared it with both researchers, and I got very different responses. We’ll start with Gentile.
Gentile: “Even kids know that [gaming is] not a very good coping mechanism… And so the problem stays there, ready for you once you’re done.”

“What you did is absolutely no different, even at this time when you were depressed, than you do when you’re not depressed,” Gentile told me. “It just was more extreme, because you were dealing with more extreme issues at that time. And even kids as young as 10 will say they do this. They’ll play games or watch movies as a coping mechanism. But even kids know that it’s not a very good coping mechanism. It’s a distraction. It doesn’t actually solve the problem. And so the problem stays there, ready for you once you’re done.

Loton put a more positive spin on the situation, connecting my game-playing to my efforts to find work.

“Do you feel as though during that time, that those hours of video game playing is what actually allowed you to apply for the jobs? So if you didn’t have something else that you enjoyed like that at the time, you would have been applying for less jobs?”

As I heard these responses, I didn’t feel like either of them was wrong, even though they disagreed.


Any good psychological professional will tell you that long-term, clinical depression is far too complex to blame on any one thing. There are usually all sorts of environmental factors in addition to whatever imbalance a person might have in his or her head. Sure, you can sometimes look at a particular depressive episode and point at a cause, but it doesn’t do it justice to ignore everything else that plays a part.

In order to discover just what part The Old Republic played in the episode I described above, we need to take a closer look at what was really going on inside my head. That is no easy task for most people, including myself, but I will do my best to share a holistic view of that situation with you.

When I lost my job, I was a dead man walking. I was not at a point in my mental health treatment that I could deal with something like that in any sort of positive way, and my friends, bless them, weren’t properly equipped to carry me through something like that. It was only a matter of time until I tried to hurt myself.

SWTOR was my morphine. It did not fix me, but it delayed the inevitable and made me comfortable. It held my bad feelings down while I searched in vain for anything tangibly good in the world. The fact that something good did not come in the 16 days between the end of my employment and a night I tried to kill myself is not the game’s fault.
SWTOR was my morphine. It did not fix me, but it delayed the inevitable and made me comfortable.

For 16 days, I lived in a state of numbness, shocked at what had happened but not dead. Some part of me was sad, but my daily dose of SWTOR allowed me to forget that sadness most of the time. It didn’t end up making me happy, and it didn’t find me a job, and it didn’t stop me from eventually going off the edge.

It also didn’t send me over that edge. Without SWTOR, I would have found other, similarly ineffective ways of managing my situation, and I would have spent more time drinking, and the outcome would have been the same. It’s likely, indeed, that without SWTOR my moment of truth would have come sooner. That game gave me more of a shot at life than anything else did. (And, as I’ve written before, in a roundabout way, it helped me.)

Games are not my problem. My problem is that I have a severe mood disorder and a boatload of emotional baggage. When we examine the cause of my myriad emotional issues, it would be unfair to say it was caused by that one thing that makes my life seem more bearable than it otherwise would be.

Were I another person, I would probably view those events differently. Indeed, everyone has different factors that contribute to their depression. We all react to those factors in our own ways. A broad psychological study looks for what people have in common and cannot account for each unique circumstance. The researchers I talked to may find ways to deliver some truths about what happens to us when we’re depressed and playing games.


So what’s the answer here? Well, I can’t really give you one for anybody but myself. All I know is that in the case of this one person — me — gaming was a lifeline. Loton said as much. Eventually that lifeline broke, and that’s because, as Gentile offered, playing games a lot was not the solution to my very large problems.
That means that gaming is not bad for me and my mental health.

Ultimately, that means that gaming is not bad for me and my mental health, but maybe I could use a more productive coping mechanism. It’s really that simple.

That analysis may not apply to you. You are different from me. You can learn, broadly, from my take on my situation. You and/or your therapist have the ability to know you better than I or any psychological study can. That, ultimately, is the lesson and the key to understanding whether, when life darkens and we suffer from depression, playing games is a help or a hindrance, a negative force or a relief.


Jul 11, 2010

I'm helping!

It's an interesting article. I'm not qualified to give a scientific opinion, but I can share my own experience. I've been dealing with depression, and bad periods make me spend time sitting around not doing anything. I know that going outside is the best way I have to cheer up, but when I don't feel like going out I'm either reading or playing video games. For me, reading is so passive that I tend to feel worse the more time I spend doing it. If I pass a couple of days reading, I know that's a very bad sign personally. On the other hand, I enjoy playing video games and they make me feel better, which in turn encourages me to go do things. There's a much greater degree of engagement with video games than with my other passive hobbies, which helps me feel a lot better.

There must be a lot of individual variance involved though, so I don't know if my anecdotal experience is helpful to anyone else.

Jun 9, 2004

I think this is way too complicated for a yes/no style answer. I think if someone has social problems, then seeking acceptance in online communities and finding rejection instead could make a problem worse. If someone felt bad about themselves and only got confirmation of those feelings, then whatever way they were getting that confirmation, it would worsen the depression.

Mar 24, 2004

happy bamboo cup

It is a complex question, really, I don't know if there is a definitive yes/no answer.

In my case, I was pretty depressed for a while (got better through therapy etc.). I gamed a lot back then; I'd get up, turn on the computer and then play till I pretty much collapsed back into bed from exhaustion. In hindsight, while it was not a good situation, I don't think the games made me any worse. Since I tend to seclude myself completely when I'm depressed anyway, video games or no, I actually think they helped me a little in their way. They gave me a sort of focus, something to keep me from thinking about myself and the horrible person I felt I was.

Now they didn't make me any better either, but they kinda helped me put off the worst sometimes. Something to think about until I got myself into my psychologist's chair and got help fixing my thinking habits.

script kitty
Jan 2, 2005


Ignoring your issues rather than dealing with them makes depression worse. If you spend all day playing video games, watching movies, or some other distracting activity instead of facing your problems of course it's not going to get any better.

Battle Pigeon
Nov 7, 2011

It grew from the seed bismuth.

My personal experience is that usually when my depression worsens, such as over the winter months, I no longer get enjoyment out of playing videogames anyway. I used to play a fair amount but now it feels like I don't have the attention span to sit down and play anything anymore. So it can go either way-either playing all the time as a form of escapism, or hardly ever because it's not enjoyable anymore.

Jan 28, 2009
Pick a number, any number.

I think the biggest danger of video games is they give people something that's relatively consistent in terms of time invested vs achievement and skill within the game and it's community. My high school friends and I were into competitive gaming (magic the gathering and fighting games in particular) and it's really satisfying getting good at a game. However, pretty much that entire group of friends continued to focus on gaming communities as we went through college and now half a decade later they're pretty much all still living with their parents and are doing nothing with their lives.

The real world is scary and prone to failure, there's no guarantee that enough time invested working towards a goal will actually yield any positive results. Games provide not only escapism (like books/movies/drugs/etc) but also consistently give you the illusion of accomplishment which is where I think the danger can come from because it gives an easy alternative to investing in any real skills or even just hobbies with much slower progress but more arguably more worthwhile results (learning an instrument/getting better at a trade or sport).

I still game so I don't mean to throw rocks from a glass house, but I've pretty much moved away from mmo's or competitive games and stick to single player stuff that you play through and move on from which puts them in a similar camp as books/movies/shows. I also don't play them much because I'm pretty busy during the week.

inward and outward
Nov 23, 2012


There are three terms you need to know here: approach, distraction and withdrawal.

Its funny because I think I ran through all of the coping methods based on what my online life was like. Vidya games sunk me deeper into depression and pulled me out. Namely because I needed more and more engaging games(see harder) to keep myself distracted, then I needed coping mechanisms to deal with and overcome failure in the video games. Then I slowly began applying those coping mechanisms and ideas to who I was.

Really weird journey in retrospect. Really says something about self-confidence when you can build confidence off of playing a videogame like a sperglord then carry it over into job interviews,weightlifting and such.

Jun 25, 2004

Proudly serving the Ruinous Powers since as a veteran of the long war.

ShadowCat posted:

Ignoring your issues rather than dealing with them makes depression worse. If you spend all day playing video games, watching movies, or some other distracting activity instead of facing your problems of course it's not going to get any better.

Pretty much this. I know friends who self-medicate with games, but also weed and alchohol.

I play a fair amount of games, but that's because I really like games, and it's a great way to unwind after work that's not drinking.

Frankly if I thought it got in the way of anything I would rather be doing, or moving my life along then it'd be a problem. Basically, my thoughts during the weekend are often, "Man, I wish I had some free time to play Dark Souls." And if it ever came "I wish I had something to do other than Dark Souls" I'd get that checked out.

Best Giraffe
Mar 1, 2012

I think in the list of coping mechanisms, video games rank pretty highly above "alcohol" but still far very short of "getting help."

Flashing Twelve
Mar 20, 2007

jchastain had a good thing about this on his tumblr


A major reason people find games alienating is the absurd way they consume time. I have been obsessed with games for decades and I will be very honest: 50 hours spent reading amazing books or watching amazing films kick the loving poo poo out of 50 hours spent playing any single game.

We have a problem, which is not admitting the degree to which we rely on games for anesthesia. They’re disposable alternate lives that slowly devour our real ones. “Gamers” are junkies, games are their junk, and there’s a kind of game criticism that’s primary function is enabling them to deny that. When we don’t ask more from games, it’s because we don’t want them to get better. We’re afraid of the world and we’d rather explore the boundaries of these fake, facile ones. We hate ourselves and we hate our bodies and we’d rather inhabit fake selves, fake bodies. We’re used to this being a lifelong habit. We take it for granted that we’re going to spend a thousand hours slumped in front of a screen, doing the same little actions again and again. People have made interesting things happen within that context, but so what? Try to communicate them to anyone who isn’t already hooked. “Slump here for a thousand hours and something cool will happen.” “Stare at this rock until the face of God appears.”

If we gain anything from playing games nonstop for the last XX years, it’ll be through thinking about them now, finding what’s good in them, and dragging the good out of the life-devouring structures in which it is entombed.

i am bones
May 18, 2010

We are the Crystal Gems!


50 hours spent reading amazing books or watching amazing films kick the loving poo poo out of 50 hours spent playing any single game.

I couldn't disagree more. Video games are not all that different from books and film in that they're all escapist devices made to entertain. Each of them tell stories and incite emotion from us. It's possible to develop unhealthy habits with all of them, but I don't think the majority of gamers are addicted to that extreme of a level.

Regardless, an unhealthy obsession with anything is worth seeking help for.

Death Pits of Crap
Nov 6, 2007

Someone with depression that needs antidepressants is going to be depressed no matter what they do, although exercise would certainly help. I think this article has the variables confused: it isn't "does a heavy gaming habit make depression worse?," it's "does having depression encourage addiction?" and there's a lot of evidence for the former.

Jan 6, 2003

i am bones posted:

I couldn't disagree more. Video games are not all that different from books and film in that they're all escapist devices made to entertain.

There are many, many books that are not meant to be escapist at all nor meant to entertain. This applies to a few educational video games but there aren't very many of them and they aren't very popular.


Dec 6, 2006

Gay for TF2!

Earwicker posted:

There are many, many books that are not meant to be escapist at all nor meant to entertain. This applies to a few educational video games but there aren't very many of them and they aren't very popular.

And there are increasingly many, many video games being made to suit the casual gamer that provide satisfaction without the entrapment of timesink.

As far as games go, there is a difference between losing yourself in something immersive like an (MMO)RPG and spending a few hours dicking around in an FPS.

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