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Gaming and Mental Health


Learning objectives

  • Learn what gaming addiction is
  • Learn about the positive effects that gaming has on mental health
  • Learn about the negative effects that gaming has on mental health


There have been some key stages of gaming addiction suggested, where initial exposure to a game starts the process to becoming addicted. Initial exposure to the game leads to a deeper interest, and then a growing obsession which then leads to addiction.

Gaming has both negative and positive effects on mental health. Gaming itself doesn’t have too many negative effects on mental health, however gaming addiction has been shown to be detrimental to mental health. 

Gaming addiction has been recognised as an addictive behaviour by the World Health Organisation. They characterised it by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. 

It is possible to be at risk of or developing an addiction to gaming in a similar way to other addictions to substances such as drugs or alcohol. Symptoms of gaming addiction include:

  • Constantly thinking about or wanting to play the game

  • Feeling irritable and restless when you’re not playing

  • Lying about how much time you’ve spent playing or playing in secret such as in the middle of the night

  • Tiredness, headaches or hand pain from too much screen time and the use of controllers or mouse and keyboard. 

  • Not paying attention to your personal hygiene, for example not washing often or not eating enough

  • Not being able to quit or even play less of the game

  • Having problems at work, school or home because of your gaming. 

  • Using gaming to ease bad moods and feelings

Initial Exposure

Initial Exposure is when an individual has very positive early experiences with the video game, where the enjoyment and fascination with such a game develops very quickly. For example, they may have started playing Fortnite for the first time, their first ‘Battle Royale’ genre, which they instantly enjoyed and wanted to play more of.

Deeper Interest

Gaming begins to take up a significantly greater position in the individual’s life, usually requiring a greater investment in time and money. Other activities that the individual might have done previously may be less significant to the person now. Developing a deeper interest into gaming is fine, it is how recreational gamers that have no intention of becoming esports professionals take that first step into esports.

Growing Obsession

Starting to become obsessive over gaming is usually when large lifestyle changes occur. Increasingly neglecting relationships, sleep, nutrition often happens at this point as the great majority of the individual’s free time is now taken up with gaming. Their thoughts are becoming increasingly solely based around gaming.


Gaming now has become the individuals dominant interest, with most of their free time taken up by gaming. They spend most of their day focused on it, either gaming or wishing they were when they weren’t. This can often be at the cost of academic or work progress and dietary and sleeping patterns are likely to be hugely affected by constant gaming. Slowly, they may find themselves disconnecting from the relationships around them IRL, and instead relying on the social connection that gaming brings.

Despite this, recreational gaming rarely leads to addiction, it can be a harmless, healthy aspect of an individual’s life. Often gaming is portrayed as this harmful activity that only children should do and we completely disagree with this portayal, however if gaming does become addictive, it can be caused by mental health disorders.

Preventing Gaming Addiction

It can often be hard to identify when you are crossing the line between having fun with your hobby and getting to the point where you are addicted to gaming, but there are different things that gamers can do to make sure that they don’t become addicted to gaming. 

  1. By setting time limits for gaming and sticking to them, it prevents excessive gaming where you might sacrifice things like sleep and daily hygiene. 

  2. Try and do other activities every day including exercise, as this helps lower the health risks of sitting and playing for long stretches of time. 

  3. Set a sleep schedule and try and keep to it, don’t let gaming be a reason why you stay up late.

Negative effects that gaming has on mental health

Although gaming has a lot of positive impacts on mental health, excessive playing of video games can result in a neglect of other aspects of your life. Apart from gaming addiction that we previously mentioned, excessive or unhealthy gaming habits may contribute to worsening of existing or underlying mental health problems, including:

  • Emotional suppression: 

  • Anxiety and depressive symptoms

  • Social disconnection

  • Relationship issues

  • Decreased motivation in school and work

  • Dopamine addiction 

These are some of the potential side effects of video games on mental health, though most of these can be avoided by following the advice suggested in preventing gaming addiction.

Positive effects that gaming has on mental health

Gaming can help remove stress from everyday life by reducing thoughts on issues that you are dealing with on a regular basis, and help improve your mood. 

Gaming is also great for social interaction with friends, combating social isolation where people might be more alone without many, if any friends, and can find people they have common interests with to create deeper friendships. 

Gaming has also been shown to be a good distraction from IRL issues, giving a feeling of achievement. It is important to differentiate how the distraction can either give the feeling of escapism or coping, which both have varying effects on mental health. This feeling of escapism through the distraction that gamers find playing video games provides a relief from the unpleasant realities they may be experiencing IRL. However, escaping from these issues often are a precursor to developing depression tendencies rather than actually dealing with the issue they are having. Disengaging from the coping strategy has been found to cause negative outcomes such as increased stress and emotional suppression. However, using gaming as an effective coping strategy through problem solving and social connection and support has been shown to be effective in reducing stress and increasing emotional support.