Is Playing Video Games a Winning Coping Mechanism?

Children and adults alike play video games to wind down after a hard day at school or work, to fight off boredom, or to cope with stress, depression, or anxiety. But due to the highly addictive nature of some video games, experts now wonder whether playing video games is a healthy coping mechanism in the long run.

Why Do People Use Video Games for Coping?

It is often hard to draw the line between a healthy use of video games as a means of entertainment and relaxation and excessive screen time or full-blown addiction. But some people, especially teens and young adults, do use video games to escape conflicts, negative emotions, and invasive thoughts.

As video games become more and more immersive, gamers can withdraw into fantasy worlds where they can create a persona who has the skills and abilities they can never achieve in the real world. Also, online video games create the illusion of living in reality as gamers can interact with real people and build “friendships” without the commitment and risks a real relationship would involve.

Especially teens and young adults struggling with low self-esteem, bullying in school or in the workplace, and toxic relationships, including relationships with close family members, are more likely to play video games as a coping mechanism to lower their anxiety and stress.

Many video game enthusiasts agree on the benefits of playing video games like:

  • Being less alone by playing with their online friends
  • Avoiding negative thoughts and emotions
  • Relaxing after a stressful day at work or school
  • Improving their mood
  • Relieving stress
  • Getting a self-esteem boost by role-playing their dream characters
  • Practicing useful skills
  • Having access to an inexpensive form of entertainment.

Some die-hard video game fans go the extra mile and join online gaming communities, discuss hot button topics on gaming forums, or start their own blogs like the popular RPG-oriented Unleash The Gamer, where they share game-related stories, memes, rants, and humor with their like-minded peers.

What Are the Downsides?

While video games in healthy doses aren’t more harmful than having a light drink after work, they do have their downsides. Video games do help players avoid feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and stress, but they cannot teach kids and young adults how to tackle and overcome them.

What’s more, many video game players report having a hard time feeling connected to the offline world and people around them after heavy gaming sessions. This downside of video games can keep teens and young adults stuck for years by preventing them from reaching independence. We’ve all probably have heard stories about full-grown adults still living in their parents’ basement, literally.

Also, video games are an unhealthy coping mechanism in the long run because they may lead to addiction and mental health issues. The World Health Organization (WHO) now considers gaming disorder a mental health issue when gaming turns into an addiction.

Signs of gaming addiction, according to the WHO, include:

  • Social withdrawal and social phobia
  • Lost interest in any other activities but gaming
  • Inability to control the length of a gaming session
  • Gaming-related interpersonal conflicts, like breakups
  • Continuation of gaming activities regardless of consequences
  • Poor performance at school or work
  • Impulsivity, irritability, and distress when access to games is limited.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 25% of young adults play video games at least four hours per day and up to 8.5% of kids and teens in the 8-18 age bracket eventually develop a gaming disorder.

In addition, playing video games is an unhealthy coping mechanism because it may make ADHD symptoms worse in teens and up the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and brain damage in die-hard gamers of all ages in the long run.

To Wrap It Up

Many teens and young adults turn to video games as a coping mechanism to high levels of anxiety and stress because they do not know any better. But no video game can help them build resilience by addressing those issues and healthily overcoming them. What is more, video games can morph into a full-blown addiction with negative consequences on the game addict’s mental health, interpersonal and professional life, and academic performance.

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