Here’s how the pandemic-fueled surge in gaming is reshaping our understanding of its impact on mental health

Given the scale of the mental health crisis, and the fact that hundreds of millions of people are already playing video games, gaming could be the next game-changer for mental health.

Most people don’t think of gaming to improve their mental health, but there’s no better way to help people improve their lives than to meet them right where they are. Three billion people—more than a third of the world’s population—are on gaming platforms.

last week, a study 40,000 gamers from Oxford University refute claims that gaming negatively affects player happiness.This is good news for US stocks 226 million people Who has only played video games in the US in 2021. In 2020, the video game market is bigger than movies and sports combined.

Gaming has long transcended the basement teen stereotype. Actually, nearly half Among those who play video games are women, and 29 percent are people of color.one of the fastest growing Demographics are “grey gamers”. 55-64 gamers between 2018 and 2021 rose by a third.

soaring popularity

Humans have a basic desire to progress, grow, and evolve, with a sense of accomplishment, and then move on to the next goal. Games are very powerful at meeting this basic need.

When I founded Thrive in 2016, at the heart of our mission was the direct link between happiness and performance. The science is clear: We perform better when we prioritize our well-being—we are more productive, compassionate, and creative.

The game gives the player a sense of progress Use skill trees, trophies, achievement levels and higher rankings. By integrating happiness into games, we can not only help people reduce stress, improve performance, win and achieve in games, but also progress and “boost” their overall well-being in the real world.Research shows that games also have Wide scope of Cognition benefit.

It is clear that the demand for solutions is growing as fast as the gaming industry. The mental health crisis was already intensifying long before anyone heard of COVID-19, and it’s only getting worse during the pandemic.according to WHOthe global incidence of anxiety and depression shot up by 25% in the first year of the pandemic.

recent study The Kaiser Family Foundation study found that by the summer of 2022, 32.8 percent of adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, nearly triple the 11 percent in the year before the pandemic. Between February 2020 and February 2022, Google Search same-day mental health services up 1,300%. At the same time, as the video game market grows, gaming popularity soars . 23% during a pandemic.

Destroying mental health stigma

Scientists and game developers are already doing some work to help people with mental health issues.

For example, 2021 study Video games are a useful tool for reducing the severity of depression and anxiety, researchers at the University of Limerick in Ireland have found, and that gaming should be seen as “a potential alternative for improving all aspects of global mental health.” In 2020, the FDA officially recognized The first use of video games as a therapy has given the green light to a racing game called Endeavor RX that will be prescribed for children with ADHD.

see the public this year Launch of DeepWell, a startup that specializes in developing games aimed at addressing mental health issues. Their first game, aimed at treating mild and moderate depression, anxiety and high blood pressure, is slated for 2023.

Another game that expands the mental health conversation is Hellblade: Senua’s SacrificeIt was developed by UK studio Ninja Theory in collaboration with Cambridge neuroscientist Paul Fletcher to get players into the minds of psychopaths.The game resonated immediately: it won five BAFTAs (the British equivalent of the Oscars) and one prize From the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

But what matters most to developers is the public’s reaction. “No matter which angle you look at, it’s great that we’ve been successful,” Ninja Theory studio head Dom Matthews Say“But by far the most satisfying of these successes has been meeting these people and reading what people say about how the game affects them.”

The next step for the team is Insight Project, using biometric sensors to collaborate to create games that give people “insights” into their mental health and the tools to manage it. “We want to create games that can change people’s lives,” Say Tameem Antoniades, Chief Creative Director of Ninja Theory. “If you can see what’s going on in your head, then you can free yourself from the symptoms and see it in a new light.”

As Tim Schafer did, psychologistanother game praised for its portrayal of those dealing with mental health issues, said, “I think gaming is a representation of how you face the troubles in your own life – it’s a way of experiencing emotions and anxiety and in a safe way and building the ability to do so in the real world.”

Addiction is certainly a problem.according to WHO About 3% of gamers meet the definition of “gaming disorder.” Bullying and harassment are also issues that the gaming community continues to face.

connection required

For Sarah Bond, corporate vice president of Xbox Game Creator Experience and Ecosystem, the key to realizing the full power of games is empathy. “In today’s world, the need for mutual understanding is more difficult than ever, but also more important than ever,” she said. Say In a presentation at this year’s SXSW.

The Bond phone acts as an “empathy amplifier,” for which we are born. Games give us opportunities to collaborate, connect with others, and connect with ourselves in ways that would otherwise be impossible.

“Through play, we can actually nurture and take care of ourselves, but we can also develop a deep sense of empathy and understanding of humanity as a whole,” Bond said. “It’s the combination of these two things that really helps us build a better world.” In a Recent Microsoft Surveys Among gamers with disabilities, 84% said gaming had improved their mental health in the past year.

For many people of all ages, gaming has provided an essential social outlet during the pandemic isolation.One study Researchers at North Carolina State University found that, as Professor Nick Taylor put it“Games don’t eliminate social interaction, they complement it.”

In fact, a polls Discovered by Pubnub, 36% of respondents form long-term friendships while playing games. This is especially important because the pandemic has accelerated another crisis, a loneliness. US surgeon Vivek Murthy called it an “epidemic”.One study Commissioned in December 2021 Cigna It was found that more than half of American adults (58%) feel lonely.

“We should think about loneliness the same way we think about hunger and thirst — our bodies give us a natural signal when we’re short of something we need to survive,” Murthy said.Loneliness is not only connect Depression, anxiety, and suicide rates are higher, but as study Brigham Young University researchers found that its risk of death is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

There is also a growing trend for older adults to play games – it encourages social connection across generations.Nearly a quarter of parents and grandparents polls The Global Internet Index said they viewed gaming with relatives as “family time”. If you, like me and millions of others, have made Wordle part of your daily social interactions – not just playing games, but sharing, comparing and competing with friends and family – you know games The power to create special moments of connection.

One study Tyler Prochnow of Texas A&M University looks at communication about mental health in games. The study found that gamers who lack real-world support “may be more comfortable being their full selves around these online people, because in ‘real life’ there is no risk of their tight social support network being countered.” He admits this Not not a replacement for in-person support, but as he puts it, “our goal is to provide the community with more face-to-face meet-and-greets where players can come together and expand the social support network beyond the online system.”

Games are already great at building community, connection, and collaboration. When it comes to improving mental health and fostering empathy, we’re just beginning to understand how much untapped potential this leisure activity has.

Arianna Huffington is the founder and CEO of Thrive.

The views expressed in Fortune.com review articles are those of their authors and do not reflect the views and beliefs of the authors wealth.

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