Here’s how the pandemic-fueled surge in gambling 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 who already play video games, gaming could be a game-changer for mental health.

Gambling isn’t where most people would think of improving 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 on gaming platforms.

Last week a study of 40,000 players at Oxford University have refuted claims that gambling negatively affects players’ well-being. This is good news for the 226 million people who played video games in the United States alone in 2021. In 2020, the video game market surpassed movies and sports combined.

The game has long since passed the stereotype of the teenager in the basement. In reality, almost half of those who play video games are women and 29% are people of color. A die fastest growing the demographic is that of “gray players”. Between 2018 and 2021, the number of gamers 55-64 increased by a third.

A resurgence in popularity

Human beings have a fundamental desire to progress, to grow and evolve, to feel a sense of accomplishment, and then to move on to the next goal. Games are incredibly powerful in meeting this basic need.

When I founded Thrive in 2016, the direct link between well-being and performance was central to our mission. The science is clear: when we prioritize our well-being, we get better results: we are more productive, more empathetic and more creative.

The games give players a direction of progress using skill trees, trophies, achievement levels and higher leaderboards. By integrating wellness into the game, we can help people not only reduce stress, improve performance, and rack up in-game wins and achievements, but also progress and “upgrade” their wellness. be general in the real world. Studies show that gambling also has a wide interval of cognitive advantages.

What is clear is that the need for solutions is growing as fast as the gaming industry. The mental health crisis was already worsening years before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19 – and it only got worse during the pandemic. According to World Health Organizationin the first year of the pandemic, global rates of anxiety and depression jumped 25%.

A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that in the summer of 2022, 32.8% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, nearly triple the rate of 11% in the year before the pandemic. And between 2020 and February 2022, Google searches for same-day mental health services increased by 1,300%. During this time, the game has grown in popularity, with the growth of the video game market 23% during the pandemic.

De-stigmatize mental health

Scientists and game developers are already working to help people with mental health issues.

For example, a 2021 study by researchers at the University of Limerick in Ireland found that video games are a useful tool for reducing the severity of depression and anxiety, and that games should be considered as a “potential alternative for the improvement various aspects of mental health around the world”. In 2020, the FDA approved for the first time a therapeutic video game, giving the green light for a racing game called Endeavor RX to be prescribed for children with ADHD.

This year, the public launch of DeepWell, a startup that creates games specifically for mental health. Their first game, aimed at treating mild and moderate depression, anxiety and hypertension, is due in 2023.

Another game that has broadened the conversation about mental health is Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. It was developed by British studio Ninja Theory, in partnership with Cambridge neuroscientist Paul Fletcher, with the aim of putting players inside the mind of someone with mental illness. The game immediately struck a chord: it was honored with five BAFTAs (the British equivalent of the Oscars) and a award of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

But it was the audience’s response that mattered most to the developers. “We’ve been successful no matter which vantage point you look at it, and that’s great,” said Dom Matthews, studio head of Ninja Theory. said. “But by far the most rewarding of these successes is meeting these people and reading people’s comments about the impact the game has had on them.”

The next step for the team is The Insight Project, a collaboration using biometric sensors to create games that will give people “insight” into their mental health and tools to manage it. “We want to create games that can change people’s lives” said Tameem Antoniades, Chief Creative Director of Ninja Theory. “If you can see what’s going on in your mind, you can remove yourself from the symptoms and see it in a new light.”

Like Tim Schafer, the creator of Psychonautsanother game lauded for its representation of those with mental health issues, said: “I think the game is a proxy for dealing with issues in your own life – it’s a way to very weak challenge to feel emotions and anxieties and move through them in a safe way and build the ability to do so in the real world.

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

A need for connection

For Sarah Bond, vice president of experience and game creator ecosystem at Xbox, the key to realizing the full power of gaming is empathy. “In today’s world, the need for mutual understanding is both harder to achieve but also more important than ever,” she said. said during a conference at this year’s SXSW.

Bond calls play an “empathy amplifier” that we are biologically wired for. Games give us the chance to collaborate, connect with others, and connect in ways we otherwise couldn’t.

“By playing, we can actually nurture and care for ourselves, but we can also develop a deep empathy and understanding for humanity as a whole,” Bond says. “And it’s this combination of those two things that can really help us build a better world.” In a recent Microsoft survey of gamers with disabilities, 84% said the game had improved their mental health in the past year.

For many people of all ages, gaming has provided an essential social outlet during pandemic isolation. A study by researchers at North Carolina State University found, as Professor Nick Taylor Put the“The game didn’t eliminate social interaction, it complemented it.”

In fact, a investigation by Pubnub revealed that 36% of respondents had formed a long-term friendship while gaming. This is all the more important since the pandemic has accelerated another crisis, that of loneliness. US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called it an “epidemic”. A study in December 2021, commissioned by Cigna, revealed that more than half of American adults (58%) are lonely.

“We should think of loneliness the way we think of hunger and thirst — as a natural signal our bodies give us when we’re missing something we need to survive,” says Murthy. Loneliness is not only associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide, but as study by researchers at Brigham Young University, it carries a mortality risk equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

There is also a growing trend of gambling among older people and this encourages social bonds between generations. Nearly a quarter of parents and grandparents of a investigation by the Global Web Index said they consider gaming with loved ones to be “family time.” If you, like me and millions of others, have made Wordle a part of your daily social interactions – not just playing, but sharing, comparing and competing with your friends and family – you know the power of games to create privileged moments of connection.

A study by Tyler Prochnow of Texas A&M University examined in-game mental health communication. He found that players who lack real-world support “may feel more comfortable being themselves with these people online, as there is no risk of returning to their close social support networks in ‘real life'”. He admitted that was the case. It’s not a substitute for in-person support, but as he said, “our goal is to provide more in-person meet and greets for the community where players can come together. and expand that social support network beyond the online system alone.”

The game is already great at building community, connection, and collaboration. And when it comes to improving mental health and fostering empathy, we’re only just beginning to understand the untapped potential of this casual activity.

Arianna Huffington is the founder and CEO of Thrive.

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