Do video games really make us unhappy?

I recently read an article in the Journal of Communicati0ns, as you do, which suggested that, among other thing, video games have the potential to make us unhappy. This statement made up a small part of the study, but it still jumped off of the page at me. I spend a lot of time reading various journals for my MA, but few got me thinking in the way that this study did. It wasn’t suggesting that playing video games can make us unhappy because we wish we could live our lives like our favourite gaming heroes, or because the contents of the game have some sort of psychological effect on us. Rather, it stated that it can make us feel unhappy because of the guilt that sometimes comes with having leisure time. It also stressed that, the harder day we’ve had, the more guilty we’ll feel for playing some games. The whole time that I was reading it, I couldn’t help but feel that I didn’t agree. I know, it’s a scientific study, you’re not really supposed to agree or disagree with ‘facts’, still, I feel that there’s no need to feel guilty about playing video games. There are plenty of reasons why.

They help us escape

This world is a crazy place. It’s full of stress, pain, sadness, stress… did I say stress? I mean, it’s also full of a lot of joy, a ton of happiness and a fair amount of good times, but it’s very rare that the news reports about that. Rather, we’re bombarded with images of Ebola in West Africa, fighting in Gaza, flooding everywhere, droughts everywhere else, knife crime, gun crime, gun knife crime and crime crime; it’s hard not to feel down sometimes. Video games give us the chance to escape the real world for an hour or so a day. In that time you can pretend to be a valiant knight, a professional footballer or football manager, a super spy or a humble adventurer. In these games you have the power to change things, you can save the world, you can score the winning goal, you can take all of that pain and suffering and channel it into a fictional world. Why should you feel bad if you want a break from all of the above? You shouldn’t. People escape in different ways, some people read a good book, others go for walks, or exercise in the gym, play a sport or watch films. Why should video games be any different? In this crazy world, we need to find peace and enjoyment wherever we can.

They give us a chance to socialise

There are a lot of ways to socialise with people these days, the majority of which aren’t in a physical sense. Text, email, Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, all of these types of communication allow us to contact our friends or acquaintances without being physically near them, or even hearing their voices. Video games give you the opportunity to talk to your friends, either through headsets or in-game chat, as well as share a common interest. Not only that, but it also gives us the opportunity to share achievement, either through winning games, completing missions or competing against other groups. It helps cement friendships, especially for people that aren’t able to compete in other activities, like sports. It gives you that sense of teamwork and camaraderie that you’d get through team sports or activities in a safe environment. They’re often a more friendly experience, with less social pressure. So if joint achievement, fellowship and team work won’t make you happy, I’m not sure what will.

They can bring us a sense of achievement

There are a lot of people out there that feel as though they suck at life. The economy has left thousands unemployed and the rise of social media has often led us to compare ourselves to the achievements of ex-school friends or colleagues. It’s left a lot of people feeling inadequate, and for some a sense of adequacy can’t be found in their professional lives. In video games, however, there are plenty of opportunities to achieve. Some consoles have their own achievement systems, in other games achievement is measured in the old fashioned way, by completing levels. Still, winning at games can give us a sense of achievement and success that might not be achievable in ‘real life’. They let us live out our fantasies, and be good at it whilst we do it. Everyone wants to feel valued, to feel successful and to feel important, and video games can give us these feelings. They might not be ‘real’, but for some it could be the closest they’ll get.

They can be educational

I’ve left this one for last, because the sorts of games that I personally play are rarely educational. Some games, however, are built to educate us. When I was a kid I used to have a video game I’d play all of the time, which taught me Maths, English and Science. Though, games back then were a bit crap at times. Nowadays, however, teachers are using video games like Minecraft to help educate children in fun interactive activities. In this sense, they’re using all of the reasons above in one to help develop a greater understanding through education. Fun stuff. My girlfriend recently told me about a study on the Harry Potter book series. It discovered that the majority of children who grew up reading Harry Potter, or watching the films, were statistically less likely to be prejudice towards other children. This was down to the themes of the books, where the Mudbloods were treated as inferior by the bad guys for example, which helped children develop a greater understanding of how they see people in their own lives. I think that video games can have the same effect, if they’re treated in the same way. The stories intertwined within the games have the potential to educate people in more ways than just the school curriculum, they can help us develop a greater understanding of ourselves and 0thers. Obviously, some games are there for pure entertainment, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t have inner meanings. Games have the potential to make us feel better about ourselves mentally, whilst giving us tools to help better ourselves and others. If that’s not a reason to feel good about yourself, I’m not sure what is.

So yeah, maybe we feel bad now and then for ‘wasting’ an hour here and there playing games when we could be doing something more ‘productive’. But it makes me wonder, when do we get to switch off? When do we get to enjoy ourselves, or are we expected to only do things that are designed to advance our careers or education. Maybe we should spend less time worrying about work, and how others see us, and we should spend more time enjoying ourselves. I’m not necessarily just talking about games, either. You should never feel guilty for doing something that you enjoy, no matter what it is (within reason, mind). Life’s too short.