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The link between Depression and Gaming

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As a gamer you will have come to know that players don’t just play games, we live games. It is a part of us. In the beginning gaming was much simpler; it was game that you played on a screen, a technological wonder. Yet now we have so much more. We have a community of gamers and experts talking and analysing games, it’s no longer a black and white scene but one that awaits discussion.

Yet, gaming will always be under the firing line from both the media and the general public, you only have to look at Robin Williams’ death (he was famous for playing video games), and numerous school shootings. For example; the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut which took place in 2012. A lot of people blamed Mass Effect on this horrendous incident.

This is just one example of how the press blame games for violence. This article will stand to point out the link between depression and gaming. Depression, much like any mental illness effects people’s everyday activities. Depression tends to be described as a mental illness that affects your mood, causing you to feel hopeless, lonely, and miserable. Someone with the illness can find it hard to complete everyday activities. Have you ever played Heavy Rain, just see look at how Ethan Mars behaves differently after he loses his son, he becomes suicidal to the point that he will do anything to escape his torment. Yet gaming and mental illness, like any other matter tends to become misinformed.

David Owen who wrote his Definition of Insanity & the Stigma of Depression for Rock, Paper, Scissors, Owen emphasises this, that, “the relationship between gaming and depression tend to only be addressed by sensational misinterpretation of studies by the mainstream press.” The mental health charity, Young Minds, postulates that nearly 80,000 of young people, (we assume children and teenagers) suffer from depression. The media, as Owen has told us is always looking for a piece bait to place video games on a hook. Danny Odywer, a video games journalist from Gamespot.co.uk spoke up about gaming and depression in his video ‘video games vs depression’, who also believes this is the case. But what causes depression, and can gaming be to blame?

Depression (like most mental health issues) is difficult to deceiver as it’s not an exact science, people tend to believe different things, that it is a physical condition rather than a mental one. With this comes the conundrum of whether depression is caused by outside effects or whether it is inherent. Laura Oates believes “there is a genetic component to depression” that at times it is unavoidable. Do we have depression because of something happening to us, or do we have it because of our genes? Does gaming cause depression in young people or does it act as a form of therapy? We could look to see what research has been conducted.


Unfortunately the only significant study was done by Dr. Douglas Gentile and a small research team entitled “Pathological Video-Game use Among Youth Ages 8 to 18.” Gentile focused on a group of young people from Singapore over a 2 year period using the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders’ (DSM), which has previously been used to determine is gamblers were becoming addicted. Gentile used this manual to help determine is gaming became a pathological problem for gamers. Gentile explained that “video game use and pathological gambling are both presumed to be behavioural addictions,” both are forms of entertainment that we use to escape our world – a distraction. The study used DSM as a reference point to see if players exhibited at least half (6) of the symptoms.” Such as refusing to do homework, skipping chores and spending what would be considered large amounts of time playing. The participants would then fill out questionnaires, the results ending up on a graph he made to determine whether or not gaming was causing a pathological problem.


Gentile’s results found that “8.5% of gamers [that took part in the study] exhibited pathological patterns of play.  Despite these results Gentile admitted to David Omen, another journalist who wrote Do Video Games Make Depression Worse?, that the results do not create a clear line between gaming and depression that “depression and pathological gaming seem to be truly co-morbid”. He explains that other factors can be found for high playing time, such as attention problems. Gentile’s research doesn’t give us a definitive answer to whether gamers become depressed (behave differently) because of games, or if they play games because they are depressed. Andrew Eades (CEO of Relentless Software) defends the use of video games; he exclaims that he is an “advocate of playing games. I think the positives outweigh the negatives. My children get a great amount of joy out of playing games.” He also addresses the study that goes into gaming and depression that “if there is evidence that shows games are affecting susceptible teenagers [those prone to mental health, pathological problems], then [developers] should be man enough to admit that and deal with It”. Eades makes a good point, as much as parents can censor their children from anything upsetting video game developers could take responsibility for what their customers are playing. This of course is always a controversial area, take GTA for example and the (apparent) effect it has on children. But in some circumstances games can help us understand what depression is.

An example would be Depression Quest which is an online transmedia browser game created by Zoe Quinn. The game allows players to choose dialogue options to progress through a fictional world. The game sets down the relationship between everyday situations and how depression can hinder those processes (the lack of choices available to certain situations adds to this effect). It is a good example of how gaming can help inspire people, to help raise awareness, and in doing so hope to put a stop to the stigma of depression and gaming.

Danny Odywer in his news video ‘games vs depression, explores how games have affect the lives of depression individuals. Danny explained that during his earlier life he struggled with depression himself, which makes his video close to heart. One person he spoke to was David Owen, who was mentioned earlier. Owen explained that his sister went through depression and during her time with the illness she found herself playing Fallout 3 and Oblivion for about 16 hours a day. After her extensive playing after several months she found that she could slowly start to intermingle with everyday activities again, function properly, mentally and emotionally. David explained that both the games she played were immersive, that completing goals and being in a completely different world became a cathartic device towards what she was going through. We can begin to see a pattern here, in the video Danny talks to several other participants.

One of which was Clare Clunes who suffers from FAP and has a family history of bowel cancer resulting in her parents passing away as a result. After she found out that she herself had early signs of the same disease she went through extensive surgery to remove part of her bowel leaving her house bound. She then became depressed due to her situation, lack of being unable to socialise. Through gaming (mainly online) this amazing women managed to accumulate friends, not only was gaming a way of bringing her together with other games but gaming itself removed the stigma of her anxiety to interact with others. With gaming as a barrier between her problems and other people she has been able to sustain a social life, which in itself has been a life saver for her. Tyler Beauchamp was another participant who spoke up about his experience. Tyler, whose dad was diagnosed with colon cancer, found that MMOs such as World of Warcraft (WOW), helped bridge him back to normal life after an episode of depression. Much the same as the Clare, this young man found that tasks in the game along with interacting with other people through gaming allowed him to socialise and feel better. Not only are gamers socialising by talking in these games, but they are team working, doing something together to achieve a common goal.

These sort of gamers find solace in gaming due to its mollifying effect, it takes us away from reality and we find ourselves connecting with something that is not truly part of our world. Is it this disconnecting that seems to help depressed individuals, but as Danny Odywer found out himself it is not always a long term solution. Gamers may find themselves stuck in the game, unable to find happiness in the real world; in this respect gaming can cause people to become trapped. This brings us back to the study that Gentile conducted, that gaming addiction, much the same as gambling addiction, can be harmful if the end result is pathological functioning. There has to be a balance. Danny admitted himself that it wasn’t until he sought out the help of a councillor that he finally overcame his demons. If gaming can do anything in this retrospect, it would be to help gamers recognize there is a problem, that seeking out help to become untangled from the effects of depression is the best way forward. A lot of people including Dr Fleming, who David Owen spoke to, believe that players “can’t change how you deal with issues in your life.” Games might be a good spokesman for people with depression, but they might not be able to take you all the way to recovery.

It’s all about finding out what helps you best, seek help.


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