Reality Bites: Video Games – A Weapon Against Depression

Video Game Depression

It was like a dream in there.  The smell of the air was crisp. The light of the full moon was soothing as thin clouds slowly passed in front of it.  Gail could not believe the realism.  She had to keep reminding herself that this was an illusion.

She had been chosen to test out the new Holograph Chamber at the university.  They had worked years perfecting it.  When it was powered off, it looked like any other room (only the size of a gymnasium), bland and bare.  But, after it was turned on, the real world seemed to slip away, only to be replaced by whatever one’s heart desired.

Gail had asked for a serene night down by the river.  She wanted sixty-five degrees, some birds chirping off in the distance and deer drinking at the embankment nearby. She got it.  Below her bare feet, every blade of grass stimulated her heels. Above her, the wind blew her hair into her eyes.

“Well, Gail? What do you think?” The voice boomed over a loudspeaker, hidden somewhere in the forest of dark trees behind her.

“This is amazing, Doctor Finch. Amazing!” She twirled around, doing her best impression of Judy Garland in the Sound Of Music. 

“We haven’t worked out all the bugs just yet but-” The doctor’s voice was interrupted by a loud growl from some brush nearby. It sounded to Gail like a bear. A BIG BEAR.

She whirled around, just in time to see a massive animal charging at her, the calm feeling replaced by terrible dread.  If the grass felt so real, what was this thing going to feel like?

It was huge and stepped up on its hind legs, giving a violent howl as the brown bear prepared to take Gail down. All she could do was freeze. As it approached, Gail could swear she smelt the distinct odor of raw fish on its breath. That was it. She screamed.

Suddenly the images around her began to flicker and fade.  A massive sound like an engine powering down filled the area.  As Gail opened her eyes, she noticed she was back in the testing chamber, the doctor running in to check on her.

“Next time Doc, let someone else be the guinea pig!”

Everywhere you go, you see it.  On the bus. Walking down the street. At the bar. And the list goes on and on.  People are glued to their smart phones, tablets, and portable hand held video game devices. They are playing casual games, solving puzzles, leveling up and constantly inviting you via Facebook to play with them.  But are these “video games” making these people happier? Or are we becoming lost in a digital sea of submersion we can’t escape from?

One recent study from the East Carolina University attempted to answer that question by following a group of roughly sixty people for a year while they played a variety of casual games (i.e. Candy Crush, Tetris, Bejeweled) and then measured their psychological profiles.  The study claimed a 57% percent reduction in depression symptoms in the people who played the games as opposed to those who did not.  On its face, that sounds amazing! Playing video games to be happier? That goes against everything we’ve heard in the media up to this point.

Well, there is another side to the study.  In the fine print. Deep down where most people don’t bother to read.  The research was conducted and sponsored by an actual video game company. In other words, take the findings with a slight grain of salt.

Okay, so cute, puzzle-like games MAY make you happier.  But what about the real games? The ones you have to scream at your kid to turn off because it’s a school night. The ones that mimic all sorts of violence and mayhem.  They can’t possibly make you less depressed, can they?

One such fascinating study done by the University of Innsbruck (Austria) found that playing violent video games alone seemed to have a negative impact on a person’s temperament and aggressive behavior. However, and here’s the kicker, when people played these types of games as a TEAM it negate the effects. The participants showed increased signs of “cooperation in decision making” and “feelings of cohesion.” 

There has been a lot written of video games in the news recently. It seems to be the “go to” reason for a lot of violence in the world. Now that it is an industry with a bigger yearly intake then Hollywood, it can expect the extra scrutiny. But, like any Hollywood movie, all is not as it seems. There  was violence and depression in our world long before video games showed up. As we continue to study the link between certain types of games and how they affect our brain, maybe we’ll finally be able to figure out the line between make believe and real life.

What affect do video games have on you? Leave us a comment and let us know.

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