Coping with Video Games: The Positives and Negatives

Skylar Simpkins ’23

Opinion Editor

In our newly pandemic-defined society, we all are frantically searching for a way to cope. Without our friends and family to rely on, most of us must look to other resources for entertainment and sanity. For myself and millions of others, video games are the end-all-be-all of coping mechanisms. Whether it be Call of Duty, Animal Crossing, or Among Us, millions of individuals worldwide turn to video games for much-needed comfort in our heavily modified reality.

A concern about video games was their depictions of violence causing real-world violence, and while a small part of the population believes there is causation present, the vast majority have moved past blaming video games for violence and instead have taken time to understand mental illness. Today, the problem does not lie with violence but instead vicariousness. Those that play and enjoy games are in one way or another coping with our isolated realm by living vicariously through the intangible and animate world we immerse ourselves in.

We control the character, so we become the character. We mostly idolize our characters, their heroism, athleticism, and overall aesthetic. When we morph our minds into the screen, we become happier and content with our current situation. While this sentimental cacophony seems effortless and painless, we must understand the gravity of the implications of existing within a fictitious reality. 

While this coping mechanism is painless at inception, the pain will begin to build the longer you are entrenched in the video games’ realm. Once you leave the game and are faced with the actual world around you, the pain will be felt, and it will be nearly insurmountable. Our minds will thrive on the euphoria of video games, creating withdrawal-like symptoms when you are away. We require more time in the imaginative universe to fulfill our psychological needs. This treacherous cycle will continue until all your motivation to complete earthly tasks diminishes, and your only motivation will lie with the quest menu.

The reality I describe is bleak, and not every gamer will fall the same way into this vicious cycle. What saves us from falling into complete dependence on video games is the upkeep of earthly motivations and social practice.

If we refresh our motivation to accomplish tasks in the real world, we cannot fall ill to video game ecstasy. We can do this by maintaining a few daily goals for ourselves: get dressed, vacuum the floor, turn in that biology homework, etc. With these little goals made, we ensure that our satisfaction cannot be fulfilled without their completion. This psychological mind trick will tether us to the real world while we spend some time rappelling through Hyrule. 

Although motivations can keep us on track to success, this is only a preventative measure. If you have already fallen into the deadening cycle of video games, how do you get out? The only way I believe someone can accomplish this feat is by interjecting reality into your video game. The best way to accomplish this is through social features. By adding human interaction to a video game, we become less indulged in the reality on the screen. We hear from other humans and are slowly pulled from our pseudo-reality. Social software allows us to realize that we are not in this game, and it does so with the softest touch. Our reality is rendered, but a reality rendered with friends who share a similar passion. We are reintroduced into the real world with friends who love the same guilty pleasures.

For most, it is hard to admit a dependency upon video games, mainly due to social implications, but this dependency is not all nefarious; in fact, it can motivate us in ways we never expected. If we idolize our character’s aesthetic or athleticism, we might be moved to spend some more time in the gym or on self-care to achieve the physique of our pixelated friend.

We could also be motivated to improve our mental state. If our character has a positive mindset that we want to imitate, we will often contort our thinking patterns to be more like that character. Also, we could be motivated to complete a certain path in life or even become involved in making video games when we become entrenched in a certain game. Dependency is not always a bad thing, as it could motivate us to make some positive changes in our actual lives.

First mentioned in this article was the fact that video games have become a coping mechanism for many of us amidst COVID-19 induced lockdowns. While I began by taking a strong stance against this mechanism because of the dangers it presents, I want to certify the positives of using video games for coping. This mechanism is painless, effortless, and mostly individualized. An individual entrenched in their video game reality will achieve it with no medication, no strenuous thought activity, and will not hurt anyone while engaged in the game. Video games are a safe way for individuals to relax and explore their imagination without the risk of external harm to others. This unmedicated euphoric state must be appreciated but cannot be worshipped due to the temptation of vicariousness.

None of us are perfect and with new isolation protocols, many of us feel more depressed than usual. Safe ways to relieve this depression should be honored but used carefully. Our mind thrives on euphoria and pleasure, so if we overindulge our mind in these stimuli, we enter ourselves into a deafening and dangerous cycle of pleasure and withdrawal. Every ounce of induced euphoria must be met with skepticism and caution to ensure that we do not fall victim to the withdrawal cycle. 

The terrain COVID-19 has created calls for some changes to behavior for the sake of our sanity, and video games can provide a solution to our social isolation. While video games can be costly, I urge everyone to try to play games (many are available online for free) when they feel stressed or alone; however, be aware of their addictive qualities and set yourself up for escape from the perfect little world on the screen. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to slay Alduin for the fourteenth time.

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