I recently completed a five day program commonly called a Partial Hospitalization Program. It was impressed upon me the cycles of one experiencing mental health difficulties and its either turmoil or elation at the hands of further gaming. (This wasn’t its primary subject but I identified it as a way of interpreting the lessons within it). You don’t need an article like this to tell you that binge gaming and ignoring responsibility leads to a furthered amount of stress. Nor do you need me to tell you what you already know, that the stress can lead into an even greater amount of gaming, creating a negative feedback loop. I say “you don’t need me,” because I write to an audience of people that have likely experienced this first hand before to such unfathomably relatable degrees that it is common knowledge. However, I will spell out this idea for those who do not experience it personally and then elaborate on the consequences of it, both in terms of mental health and illness, as well as the ability to upkeep ones physical and emotional hygiene.
The first thing I’d like to say is that gaming does something for us. There’s a reason people game. It has been labelled as an escape by others, a muse by some, an addiction, a vicious habit, or even just a part of people’s structure — a means to escape boredom perhaps. When one is mentally unhealthy, this “doing something for us,” becomes a sort of tether. Can’t stomach being… yourself? Be around an experience in a virtual world that shows how good and experienced you are at something. Isolating and withdrawing because of depressed feelings or emotions? Find a social network (however small) to attach you to a game and give a sense of community or a relief from that loneliness. This doesn’t have to be a direct line of communication to others. It can be Twitch streams you frequent, YouTube channels you’re subscribed to, Discord servers you’re a part of — all three of which are involved heavily with gaming.
There are dozens and dozens of examples for the reasons people game. But in each one, there is a consequence that you are spending a lot of that time in a world “escaping” and furthering the depression, sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, one might feel in these positions IRL. Again, the use of the word “escape” — I will elaborate.
Gaming for me became a habit almost in sync with when I identified it as an addiction. It became identical to walking into the bathroom and flipping on the lights. Or, when I’m bored (as I’ve stated previously) the cue to game flourished and I found my way over to the computer. And don’t get me started on stress. Have classes to attend? I stayed up until 3 AM because I was anxious to go to Literary Theory. In this example, I slept right through the alarm and missed it. Dissatisfied with myself, I just gamed more, alone, in the dark, in my room. The habit of “feeling terrible,” led to my use of gaming as a method to alleviate the symptoms by not feeling them at all.
I bring this back to that cycle we experience as those who play games when mental health is on the line. Where our thoughts are negative outside of gaming (or even during the “coasting” or “just existing” part of playing games), so our behavior is to game more to cope or distract, then our mood becomes worse and the cycle of negativity starts all over. For the experienced eye, this is the CBT Triangle: thoughts lead to emotions leads to behaviors leads to thoughts, or the inverse or to other parts of it.
I disparage gaming in these ways but I have tried to explain why I do. Gaming does something for us, but at nearly incomparable cost. A lot of folks, I generalize, say, “imagine all the time you’d have if you just didn’t game!” Or, “You’re so talented! You could do anything.” Or, “Get a job!” Or, “You’re wasting your life!” And I hate to use generic examples here, but these are a small fraction of the ones I’ve faced. Gaming, especially binge gaming that is unregulated, puts at risk our mental health, physical health, and for me, has yielded truthfully very little in the way of extrinsic reward… Aside from thousands of hours logged in various games on Steam.
As a lasting thought, consider your mental wellbeing when playing games and reflect on its ability to help you get better. Once you’re out of the gaming world… are you satisfied? If not, it is time to try to change the habit.
My lasting note here: Identify in life the good things that gaming gives to you. Search for alternative forms of those things outside of gaming and implement them into your life to replace gaming.
If your mental wellbeing is the cost of being able to game, it is a choice for you and for you alone whether to change the habit (or even start to).