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Here’s how the pandemic’s dramatic rise in gaming is reshaping our understanding of its effects on mental health

Given the scale of the mental health crisis and the hundreds of millions of people already playing video games, gaming could be the next game changer for mental health.

Gaming isn’t the place most people think to improve their mental health, but there’s no better way to help people improve their lives than to meet them where they are. And where 3 billion people – more than a third of the world’s population – are using game platforms.

Last week, one research out of 40,000 gamers from the University of Oxford refuted claims that gaming negatively affects players’ health. This is good news for 226 million people who played video games in the United States alone in 2021. In 2020, the video game market has surpassed movies and sports combined.

Gaming has long gone beyond the preconceptions of the teenage boy in the basement. In reality, Almost half of video game players are female, and 29% are people of color. One of the fastest growing demographic is “gray players.” From 2018 to 2021, the number of players is 55-64 people increase by a third.

The popularity skyrocketed

Humans have a basic desire to progress, to grow and to evolve, to feel accomplished, and then to move on to the next goal. The game is extremely powerful in meeting this essential need.

When I founded Thrive in 2016, at the core of our mission was the direct connection between health and performance. The science is clear: When we make our happiness a priority, we function better – we are more productive, more empathetic, and more creative.

The game gives players a sense of progress use skill trees, trophies, achievement levels and higher ranks. By embedding happiness in the game, we can help people not only reduce stress, increase performance and enhance wins and achievements in the game, but also progress and “upgrade” overall health theirs in the real world. Studies show that gaming also has wide range of the awareness benefit.

What is clear is that the demand for solutions is growing as fast as the gaming sector. The mental health crisis intensified years ago when people had never heard of COVID-19 – and it has only gotten worse during the pandemic. Follow World Health OrganizationIn the first year of the pandemic, global rates of anxiety and depression increased by 25%.

Recently research The Kaiser Family Foundation found that in the summer of 2022, 32.8% of adults reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder or depression, nearly three times the rate of 11% in the year before the pandemic. And from 2020 to February 2022, Google seek same-day mental health services 1,300% increase. Meanwhile, games are gaining popularity, with the video game market growing 23% during the pandemic.

Mental health destination

Game scientists and developers have been doing a lot of work to help people with mental health conditions.

For example, the year 2021 research by researchers from the University of Limerick in Ireland have found that video games are a useful tool for reducing the severity of depression and anxiety, and that games should be considered “a solution for potential alternatives to improve various aspects of mental health globally”. In 2020, FDA approved For the first time a video game as therapy, green light for a racing game called Endeavor RX indicated for children with ADHD.

This year has seen the public Launching DeepWell, a startup that creates games specifically meant to tackle mental health. Their first game, aimed at treating mild to moderate depression, anxiety and hypertension, is scheduled to take place in 2023.

Another game that expands the mental health conversation is Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. It was developed by UK-based studio Ninja Theory, in partnership with Cambridge neuroscientist Paul Fletcher, with the goal of bringing players into the mind of a mentally ill person. The game immediately struck a chord: It was honored with five BAFTAs (the UK equivalent of the Oscars) and one reward from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

But it’s the feedback from the public that means the most to developers. “We’ve had success from any angle you look at it, and that’s amazing,” said Ninja Theory studio head Dom Matthews. speak. “But by far the most satisfying part of those successes has been meeting those people and reading comments from people about how the game has impacted them.”

Next for the group is Project Insight, a collaboration that uses biometric sensors to create games that will give people “insight” into their mental health and the tools to manage it. “We want to make games that can change people’s lives.” speak Ninja Theory’s creative director Tameem Antoniades. “If you can see what’s going on inside your mind, then you can remove yourself from the symptoms and see it in a new way.”

As Tim Schafer, the creator Psychologistanother game was praised for depicting people dealing with mental health issues, saying, “I think gaming is a representative method of dealing with problems in one’s own life. you – it’s a very low-key way to experience emotions and anxiety and work through them safely and build the capacity to do so in the real world.”

Addiction can of course be a problem. Follow World Health Organization about three percent of game players meet its definition as having a “gaming disorder”. Bullying and harassment are also issues that the gaming community continues to face.

Need to connect

For Sarah Bond, Corporate Vice President of Xbox Game Creator Experience and Ecosystem, the key to realizing the full power of gaming is empathy. Miss speak in a talk at SXSW this year.

Bond calls act as “empathy amplifiers” to which we are biologically wired. Games give us the opportunity to collaborate, connect with others, and connect with ourselves in ways we couldn’t.

Bond said: “By playing we can really nurture and take care of ourselves, but we can also develop empathy and a deep understanding of humanity as a whole. “And the combination of those two things can really help us build a better world.” In one Microsoft’s recent survey Among players with a disability, 84% said gaming has improved their mental health in the past year.

For many people of all ages, gaming has provided an essential social outlet during a time of pandemic isolation. One research by researchers at North Carolina State University, like professor Nick Taylor, have found put it“The game doesn’t remove social interaction, it complements it.”

In fact, one survey of Pubnub showed that 36% of respondents had lasting friendships while playing games. It is especially important because the pandemic has accelerated another crisis, a crisis of loneliness. US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, has called it an “epidemic.” One research in December 2021 authorized by Cigar found that more than half of adults in the United States (58%) are lonely.

“We should think of loneliness the same way we think of hunger and thirst – as a natural signal our bodies give us when we lack something we need to survive,” says Murthy. exist. Loneliness is not just related with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide, but research by researchers from Brigham Young University showed that it carries the same risk of death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

There is also a growing trend of gaming among older people – and it encourages social connections between generations. Almost a quarter of parents and grandparents in one survey by Global Web Index says it considers gaming with loved ones “family time”. If you, like me and millions of others, have made Wordle part of your daily social interactions – not just playing, but sharing, comparing and competing with friends and family – You know the power of games to create special moments of connection.

One research by Tyler Prochnow of Texas A&M University looked at mental health communication in gaming. It found that players lacking real-world support “may feel more comfortable being themselves around these individuals online as there is no risk of compromising social support networks.” their close association in ‘real life’. Not a substitute for in-person support, but as he says, “our goal is to bring more face-to-face meet and greets to the community where gamers can come together and expand the network.” that social support network outside of the online system.”

The game has been great at building community, connecting, and collaborating. And when it comes to improving mental health and promoting empathy, we’re just beginning to understand how much untapped potential this ordinary activity has.

Arianna Huffington is the founder and CEO of Thrive.

Opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary are those of their authors only and do not reflect the views and beliefs of Luck.

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