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Are Video Games Good For Mental Health

It seems like no one can agree on the relationship between video games and mental health. Advocates claim that video games help to alleviate stress and depression, while detractors say first person shooters like Halo and Call of Duty are related to America’s recent spike in gun violence.

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Many studies have been conducted on the relationship between video games and violence, but various sources claim those studies prove different things. Are the results being twisted? Let’s take a look.

Violent Lessons

Since the advent of violent “sandbox” games such as Grand Theft Auto, parents and educators have been expressing concern over what lessons these games are teaching children. These games have been criticized for encouraging players to wreak casual destruction – shooting police officers, stealing cars, and soliciting prostitutes are just a few of the attractions the GTA series has to offer.

Some people are concerned that these acts of violence will numb the player to the consequences of doing the same thing in real life. Gamers as young as fourteen often play Halo and Grand Theft Auto, causing parents to question whether this level of violence is appropriate or safe.

In the recent, tragic shooting at Sandy Hook, the media was quick to point out that the shooter had a history of playing violent FPS games, sparking a discussion on whether these games might inspire the players to bring their violent fantasies to life.  

Potential To Help

On the other hand, many gamers strongly disagree with these criticisms, saying they play video games for stress relief and understand that it’s just a game. Others cite the positive benefits of “massive multiplayer online” games (MMOs), such as the incredibly popular League of Legends. These games offer a sense of community and allow players to work together as a team.

Studies have shown that video games can play a role in relieving stress and slowing cognitive decline. Certain companies are even studying the possibility of using video games to represent and positively deal with depression. The controversial 2013 game Depression Quest attempted to represent what it feels like to cope with depression on a daily basis. Some loved the game, feeling that someone was finally telling the story of their own struggles; others lashed out, sending the creator death threats.

In 2012, New Zealand researchers created a game called SPARX with the aim of helping teens to understand and cope with depression, with positive results. Currently, a Boston-based company is working on similar research, among other pursuits. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with the company raising $171 million on the London Stock Exchange last June.

Controversy Continues

As of now, there are no conclusive answers about whether video games are good or bad for us. As with any type of media, be it books, film, or theatre, there are parts that are positive and parts that are negative. It is up to the consumers and creators to make that distinction and develop games in a worthwhile, positive direction.

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