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Video Games Helped Me Level Up My Mental Health

03/15/2017 04:52 EDT | Updated 03/15/2017 04:54 EDT
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Video game console controller in gamer hands

You don't have to go far to find someone complaining about the effect video games have on young people. It's found in evening news segments, social media, discussions with mental health organizations, and in casual conversation. They all use similar stock footage too: guys in dark rooms playing games that depict violence.

The images suggest they are trapped, addicted and need saving. And while this one picture of video games use might be valid for some people -- it's an incomplete picture.

You only must remember what happened with rap music, rock music, the Beatles and dancing like Elvis to remember that society is always scared of youth culture. What us young people like is seen as scary, and often portrayed as dangerous.

There are always examples that seem to prove that too -- remember that heavy rock music was widely blamed for the Columbine shooting. All of this misses the fact that music and games are tools -- they are not inherently good or bad, just tools.

And like all tools, there are right and wrong ways of using it. Many gamers are in control of their gaming, despite the stereotypes.

So, in that vein, I wanted to share my story of using video games as a tool for wellness. If you know me, you know I am quirky and I love that about myself. As a kid, this made it hard to make friends in person. Try as I might to fit in with other kids, I was always the kid outside of the circle, sitting alone at recess, or generally being left out. It was incredibly isolating.

"I have been bullied for my gender in games, seen people get really addicted and obsessed with them, but they also can offer a lot of good too."

But that changed for me the day I first discovered my first game -- Gunbound. Suddenly, I had a seemingly endless group of people from around the world who were all interested in the same things I was.

Talking to them was so much easier than taking to people in my in-person community. For the first time, I wasn't alone. By having a game I was playing, I also found people in my school and community who played the same game and created friendships with them with them. I was no longer alone at school or in the community.

As I got older -- I played different games. They helped me learn to solve complex puzzles, have someone to connect with and talk to through the game's chat, and created a community that allowed me to be myself. Of course -- like with every community -- there were bullies, predators, and all around terrible people. But you can find them, block them and keep going.

On occasion, I would have to take extra steps to be rid of them -- but was lucky to have a supportive community to get me through it. Being able to connect with people online and play video games when I am feeling down is my mindfulness - it keeps me focused on the presence and smiling like no other wellness tool I have tried. And I have tried a lot.

I am sharing this story with you to encourage you to see both sides to games. They can be helpful -- they can be hurtful. I have been bullied for my gender in games, seen people get really addicted and obsessed with them, but they also can offer a lot of good too.

It's time we start seeing the complete picture around gaming. Gaming has the potential to be a positive force in a youth's life, we just have to pull our focus away from the individual pixels and see it at its full resolution.

Authors note: while this article focuses on gaming in youth, it's important to note that gaming isn't just something young people do. The average gamer is in their 30s, equally likely to be male or female (with other gender identities heavily represented as well) and from any background/culture.

And while we sometimes focus on games without social messages, it's good to know that games like Papers Please, Gone Home or Life is Strange are using games to educate and empower marginalized communities.

If you are worried about the video game habits of yourself or someone you know -- please consider some of what I have written here today and talk to them or professional about it.

This article also appears on CAMH's Blog

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