Why Videogames Matter

Hello Dazzle! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I want to talk about why videogames matter to me as a person and why they have become a central part of my life. There are many who consider my playing videogames to be childish or even without value, but I hope to explain why neither of those things is true.

Having a chronic illness means that I am greatly limited by what is happening with my body on that given day. Some days I can go about my life in a manner that allows me to blend in with the able-bodied folk. Other days, my symptoms are chains that keep me bound to my home or even my bed. There are not many activities that one can engage in when the soul crushing fatigue has enforced a day of rest in bed. I can watch TV or read a book or do some writing or scroll through the internet or I can play videogames. They serve as basic entertainment for the days that would otherwise be mind numbingly boring. Laying in bed, staring up at the ceiling and doing nothing for 16 hours is pretty awful. Playing videogames is a way to bring joy to those hours that would otherwise be terrible.

Videogames are also a coping skill. There are times that it is helpful to get outside of one’s own head and away from the cycling thoughts that are pulling you further into despair or rage. It can be a way to break free from perseveration and intrusive thoughts about things like death being the only end to your illness or how there will always be another day that is filled with this pain and fatigue. There is much in our lives that we have no control over. Spending our precious spoons focusing on these areas of life offers us no value, yet they are also things that have a great influence over our lives so it can be a challenge to yank our minds back from that path. Videogames are a way for me to do this. They give me something to think about other then the things I cannot change. They tell me stories and take me to beautiful worlds where I can forget for a moment that I will always have these illnesses.

Since I grew up playing videogames, they also carry the power of nostalgia. They are connected with some of the best moments of my childhood; times that I was part of the group and felt included. While most people look at nostalgia much the same way as they look at videogames, as a self indulgent waste of time, it is important to know that research [1] has shown that nostalgia can offer us mental health benefits. When engaging in nostalgic thoughts we are connecting with strong emotions from our past. These kinds of emotions have a profound impact on our brain that can remind us that while current times are tough there were times that were better. These memories serve as a promise that things can be better again and that we will not always feel like we do now. Research has shown that nostalgia can reduce physical pain and can increase your body temperature. [1] [2]

Being stuck at home, whether bound to my bed or not, can be socially isolating. There is nothing good about feeling socially isolated. Having a chronic illness generates a feeling of isolation all by itself, so it is important to do everything that we can to maintain a sense of connection with other people. The online gaming community is available to me any time of day and is a place that I can go to when I need to be with other people while not being able to leave my house. Playing videogames with other people gives me the opportunity to make online friends that I can then hang out with on a regular basis. These social connections are essential. Having social support has been shown to improve the chances that we will have positive outcomes, including the fundamentally important outcome of living longer lives. [3]

Being neurodivergent often means that I struggle to integrate well into social groups. For me, videogames have served as a social bridge. They give me something that I can share with others that we can talk about without there being any emotional charge or weight on the topic the way that politics and religion have. When you are online and playing a videogame, that’s all they see. They don’t see that I am different then they are because I have chronic illness and mental disorders. They see that I am playing a game that they also enjoy playing. This means that I can chat with them without worrying about reading their body language because there are only the words coming over the headset or screen. They don’t see that I am not presenting the body language that they are used to seeing. This makes it less likely that misunderstanding each other will happen the way that it often occurs during face to face interactions with others.

Keeping our minds engaged in challenging tasks has been shown to help reduce the risks of dementia. Since I am someone with several risk factors for developing dementia, this is of significant importance to me. There is nothing I can do about having family members who had dementia [6] or about being diagnosed with ADHD. [5] Those are non-modifiable risk factors for dementia. But I also have to take antihistamines [7] to keep my MCAS from reaching life threatening severity. This means that it is very important that I keep my brain active as the only means to help reduce my risk for having dementia in the future.

All of this adds up to make videogames an essential part of my health and well being. They serve as a tool to help regulate my emotional state when I am struggling with the inevitable big emotions that come from having a chronic illness. They offer me comfort during the hard times and remind me that things can be better. They keep me from becoming bored and inert. They allow me to make social connections. They help protect my brain. Videogames are as important to my health care management plan as the medications that I take and the diet that I observe. Because coping effectively with the negative aspects in our lives is essential for positive health outcomes.

When you see someone engaging in a hobby that you don’t understand and that you might think would have been better off left behind with their childhood, remember that there are medical and psychological benefits to having hobbies that engage our minds and create social connections. These are our coping skills and they are essential.

Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

References and Additional Reading

  1. Is Nostalgia a Past or Future-Oriented Experience? Affective, Behavioral, Social Cognitive, and Neuroscientific Evidence
  2. Heartwarming memories: Nostalgia maintains physiological comfort
  3. Social and Emotional Support and its Implication for Health
  4. Educating the Brain to Avoid Dementia: Can Mental Exercise Prevent Alzheimer Disease?
  5. Previous adult attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder symptoms and risk of dementia with Lewy bodies: a case–control study
  6. Parental family history of dementia in relation to subclinical brain disease and dementia risk
  7. Anticholinergic medication use and dementia: latest evidence and clinical implications

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