In the 1940s, 2,000 pinball machines were seized and destroyed by the New York City police under orders from mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, the beginning of a widespread ban that would last until the ’70s. Not long after that, when the first video game arcades became popular, they, too, were stigmatized as junior crime dens that were stealing the souls of American children with their addictive allure. In the ’90s, it was Mortal Kombat and Doom, the latter of which was considered by some to be responsible for the Columbine massacre.
21st century parents are generally less afraid that video games will turn their children into soulless zombies (that’s more of a Facebook thing). The big stigma today is the more generalized “screen time.” And, while it’s important for anyone to have balance in their lives between the screen — which can include school, homework, a job, errands, socializing and entertainment — and IRL activities, putting extreme limitations on gaming can actually be detriment to a young person’s health.
Or at least, it can prevent them from receiving the benefits of gaming, especially if they live with anxiety, depression or ADHD.
Greden Camacho, gamer, multimedia personality and founder of OfficialChiKa Gaming, moderated the panel “Get Ya Mind Right” at Futures First Gaming’s Fall Brawl in September. During the panel she shared her own journey from a little girl playing video games with her father to a career in the healthcare field to a professional gaming industry career, as well as the ways gaming has helped her.
¡Hola, mi gente!
I'm working on a video to feature Boricua creators/developers in the gaming & esports industry. If you're interested in being featured, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM for further details! Limited spots available.#HispanicHeritageMonth pic.twitter.com/jnEyn9gsUk
— OfficialChiKa Gaming (@imofficialchika) September 28, 2021
The four other panelists were full of more advice for gamers and parents of gamers than we can cover — but we’ll give you some of the prime takeaways. Here are five ways gaming is good for your mental health:
1. Gaming can be an emotional regulator.
“I have a 9-year-old with ADHD,” said panelist Terri Gentry, a Delaware mental health practitioner. “Gaming slows him down and helps him be more controlled.” Playing games can trigger rage, she notes, something that can be used as a teachable moment.
“I did take the game from him for three weeks [after he damaged a screen during play],” she said. After that, though, she said it didn’t happen again, and when it seemed he was getting frustrated, the incident could be recalled and they have been able to talk it out instead of having it reoccur.
Corey King of Training Grounds, a Delaware-based esports youth development program that has a focus on mental health, sees something similar with the competitive players he trains: “Learning to be an esports athlete means learning to know when you have to walk away,” he said.
2. Social circles are built on gaming platforms.
It may seem like your kid is spending their time gaming all alone, eschewing friendships. But gaming is social, and those relationships can help gamers through difficult times.
“Any time I’ve had a bad day, I’d tell the people I’m playing with and we would talk about it,” said Camacho. “They’d be like, ‘OK, ChiKa, let’s make it better.’ Especially during COVID, it can be hard to have those kinds of social interactions [IRL].”
3. It builds self esteem.
Natasha St. Amand’s G.U.R.L.S. (Girls Unapologetically Reaching Levels Successfully) course includes a section on gaming, because young women are often told or given the message that gaming is just for boys.
In most cohorts, said the “etiquette therapist” who goes by Natasha Paris, the majority of the girls were already gamers — and learning that their classmates were, too, built up camaraderie and made them all feel like they were allowed to be gamers (or anything they’re told they can’t do).
4. It can promote parent-child bonding.
Camacho says gaming is part of why she has a close relationship with her parents, who have supported her through her decision to pivot to a gaming career in her mid-20s.
“In high school, I didn’t care about the prom. My parents could have made me put on a dress and take pictures, but instead I stayed home and played [Call of Duty] Black Ops with my dad,” she said. “He’s in the military and was gone a lot. He didn’t make my high school graduation. So instead of ‘Remember when you came to my graduation,’ it’s ‘Remember that time we kicked butt together?'”
5. It can help with self-actualization.
Games that include the ability to create character design allow for self-actualizing in game play, said Dr. John Drodz of Warrior GMR Foundation, an organization that uses gaming as a wellness tool for veterans. That’s something that can be beneficial for mental health therapy.
“You can pick attributes, you can pick qualities, you can pick your style and cultivate it,” he said. “That can form a foundation for working with [their therapists].”
You can watch the full panel here: