There’s been research about the violence, corruption and addiction in games but there’s also been plenty of research into why they can also make you happy. These sharp and tasty bursts of excitement can make a sad person smile, an angry person relax and bring about a feeling of contentment.
In-depth studies on the positive effects of games range from improved visual processing abilities to being better at problem solving and taking careful risks. Before I get into the complexities of why games are such wonderful things that we should play all day and night, allow me to explain why I think they can make you happy.
Take Andy*, he’s a fairly well adjusted man with a good sense of humour, a great job and a nice life. You see him ambling down the street or driving past in his expensive car and you think, “Yeah, he has it all.” Only, he doesn’t. Andy has battled with depression for most of his adult life and it is gaming that’s proved to be his rescue.
“It was during a particularly bad patch when a friend recommended that I give gaming a try,” explained Andy, “I remember thinking that it was a typical geek thing to say but I was at the point where I was ready to try anything.”
So Andy started playing games. He tested the waters with Age of Empires and Half Life, and other such notables, and soon noticed a difference in his state of mind. “They helped me to relax and took my mind off my problems completely, it was as if a switch had gone off in my mind and I was able to let go of everything for a while.”
It was these brief moments of escape that he feels ultimately led him out of the darkness and back into life as a functioning human being. “If I ever feel down now, I just crack open the games,” said Andy, “It works so well for me, so effectively, that I see it as my own personal therapy.”
Last year, Gail Nichols spoke to the Washington Post about her issues with depression and how gaming helped her recover. She said that, “Games are a big help in getting through to the next morning.”
The research shown in this article correlates sharply with the comments made by Andy. That “...the idea that depression and other disorders – as well as everyday stress and worry – involve systematic patterns of thought and self-doubt, and that games can distract people and put them in a different mental zone.”
Of course, depression isn’t something that's thoroughly understood. There are many different forms and many different ways of diagnosing it. There is no exact science regarding this illness and so gaming may not be a miracle cure for everyone. However, it may well be as good as an aspirin for a headache for anyone that’s feeling particularly low or overwhelmed with the stresses of everyday life.
In a slightly more manic, and bizarre feature in which he debates whether or not games can make us happy, Tim Rogers says, “Yes, yes they can.” He refers to games that allow us to do something that we’ve always wanted to do, but perhaps didn’t have the money/time/talent to do in the real world. He uses the example of how he always wanted to be a rock god, a guitar playing legend adored by millions. So, as you can imagine, Guitar Hero and its ilk make him very happy.
Actually, this particular genre has the knack of making everybody happy. When it was at its height of popularity, in my circles anyway, the game was whipped out at every single party. It wasn’t long before a group of socially inept gaming journos stopped sitting around and staring mournfully at their beers and began screaming at the screen instead. They all got happy, stayed happy and left happy.
So this brings me to my next thought, do games not make us happy because of their very ability to let us be someone else? You decide what games you want to play and how you want to play them, so if you’ve got hero fantasies then any one of a zillion FPS’ will make YOU happy. If you fancy being a woman with hot ninja moves, then there are loads of titles made just for you. Losing yourself in these characters has the potential to make you feel extremely cheerful and excited.
For my final thoughts I would like to point out this study that talks about how they developed games specifically to make you happy. The games they’ve created are designed to help you reprogramme your mind, to alter those thought processes that made you feel stressed and insecure.
“We needed to find a group that was very stressed and, you know, I always hang up on telemarketers frankly, personally, so they’re dealing with a lot of rejection all day long.” Yeah, they tested their product on telemarketers and after a week the stress levels of these telemarketers had dropped by 17 percent.
So whether you play a game specifically designed to make you feel good, or just like to shoot things, games are a great way to just make yourself happy.
* name changed