Do Video Games Cause Depression

Do Video Games Cause Depression? The Hidden Connection Revealed

Writen By: Sana Ihsan
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: December 16, 2023

Ever wondered if playing video games could make you feel sad?  Do video games cause depression? Are they just games, or could they affect how we feel in our everyday lives? Let’s dig into the world of gaming and emotions together.

Video games are like interactive stories on a screen. You can control characters and make choices, like in a movie where you’re the main character. Now, can this fun activity also make you feel down? Some experts say that spending too much time in these digital worlds might affect our mood. It’s like getting lost in a story, which makes it hard to enjoy the real world. That’s where the concern about video games causing depression comes in. This concern further leads us to our main question: Do video games cause depression? Well, let’s find out.

In today’s blog spot, we’re diving into a big question: Do video games cause depression? And if they do, how does that happen? Stick around because we’re not just chatting about games; we’ll also explore books for when you’re feeling sad, discuss the signs of feeling depressed, and share some cool strategies to help you feel better. Let’s get started!

What are Video Games? 

Video games are interactive electronic games that involve player engagement with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a two- or three-dimensional display device. Video games are like digital playgrounds on a screen. You get to be a hero, an explorer, or even play sports without leaving your chair. Whether it’s solving puzzles, going on adventures, or playing sports, video games are a way to have fun and use your imagination in a virtual world.

But all this fun has a dark side as well. Spending too much time gaming might lead to many serious problems in your life. This discussion reminds us of our main question and we know that you guys are also wondering, Do video games cause depression? We will answer this question in detail but first, let us explain when playing video games becomes a threat to mental health rather than a fun activity.

Video Games Addiction

While playing video games can be a fun and stress-relieving hobby, when it becomes an addiction, it can endanger your mental health. Gaming addiction, often referred to as “Internet Gaming Disorder” in psychological literature, involves an excessive and compulsive engagement with video games, leading to negative consequences in various aspects of life. This behavioral pattern is characterized by an inability to control gaming habits, prioritizing gaming over other responsibilities, and continuing gaming despite adverse effects on personal, social, or occupational well-being. The impact of gaming addiction on mental health is significant, potentially contributing to heightened stress, anxiety, depression, and impaired overall functioning.

According to this 2019 study, mobile game addiction is linked to increased depression, social anxiety, and loneliness in adolescents. Notably, male adolescents with mobile game addictions reported higher levels of social anxiety compared to females.

Prevalence of Video Game Addiction 

A very recent research study in 2023  found that the prevalence of video game addiction among the general US population was 3-8.5%. Additionally, a higher video game addiction score was correlated with higher scores in anxiety and depression.

Impact of Video Games on Mental Health

Video games can have both positive and negative impacts on the mental health of an individual but, Can video games cause depression? Well, first lets talk about the positive and negative video games effects on mental health of individuals.

Positive Impact on Mental Health

The following are some of the positive effects of video games on an individual’s mental health.

  • Stress Relief

Playing games can serve as a stress reliever, offering an escape from real-life pressures and providing an enjoyable way to unwind.

  • Problem-Solving Skills

Video games often involve challenges and puzzles, encouraging players to think critically and develop problem-solving skills.

  • Coordination and Reflexes

Many games require quick reactions and hand-eye coordination, helping to enhance these skills over time.

  • Teamwork and Social Interaction

Games that are multiplayer promote teamwork and communication as players collaborate to achieve goals, fostering social skills.

  • Creativity and Imagination

Players can express themselves in games with open worlds or creative modes, which encourages imagination and creativity. 

  • Opportunities for Learning

 Educational video games can engagingly teach various subjects, making learning fun for players.

  • Persistence and Patience

 Overcoming challenges in games requires persistence, helping players build patience and resilience in the face of difficulties.

  • Strategic Thinking

Strategy games require planning and decision-making, enabling players to develop strategic thinking abilities.

  • Community Building

Online gaming communities provide a platform for people with shared interests to connect and build a community.

  • Cognitive Benefits

Certain video games, especially those designed to challenge the mind, can contribute to cognitive development by enhancing memory, attention, and cognitive flexibility. These games often involve complex tasks that engage the brain and may have positive effects on cognitive functions over time.

Why Are Video Games Bad For You?

The following are some of the negative impacts of video games on individuals:

  • Sedentary Lifestyle

Extended periods of gaming can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, contributing to health issues like obesity and related problems.

  • Sleep Disruption

Excessive gaming, especially late at night, can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insufficient rest and potential negative effects on overall health.

  • Social Isolation

Spending too much time in virtual worlds may reduce face-to-face social interactions, potentially leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

  • Aggressive Behaviour

Some studies suggest a connection between violent video games and increased aggression, although the relationship is complex and debated among researchers.

  • Risk of Addiction

 In some cases, individuals may develop a gaming addiction, leading to neglect of real-life responsibilities, relationships, and overall well-being.

  • Physical Health Issues

Prolonged gaming sessions can contribute to physical discomfort, such as eye strain, headaches, and other musculoskeletal issues.

  • Exposure to Inappropriate Content

Certain games may contain violent or inappropriate content, and prolonged exposure can potentially influence behaviour, especially in younger players.

  • Financial Consequences

In-app purchases and microtransactions in games can lead to the financial strain if players spend excessively without realizing the overall costs.

  • Negative Impact on Academic and Occupational Goals

Excessive gaming, especially in the form of gaming addiction, may hinder the pursuit of academic or career goals, leading to negative consequences in personal and professional life.

Do Video Games Cause Depression? Exploring the Connection

Now, let’s come back to our question: Do video games cause depression? The answer to this anticipated question is yes.

Video game addiction can trigger depression because excessive gaming might lead to social isolation, reduced real-world interactions, and neglect of responsibilities. When gaming becomes a dominant and immersive escape, it can impact emotional well-being, potentially contributing to feelings of sadness and withdrawal from daily life.

A 2019 research study suggests that excessive video gaming is linked to worse mental health, especially for distraction seekers and action game fans. More research is needed to clarify cause-effect. This 2020 study further suggests that while moderate video game playing is linked to some mental health issues, excessive gaming can lead to depression, anxiety, and stress. These negative impacts are more likely when gaming disrupts healthy life functions, resulting in low grades, reduced physical activity, strained relationships, and poor work performance.

So there can be a link between excessive video game use and depression. When people spend too much time gaming, it may have many negative impacts on their lives. However, it’s essential to note that individual experiences vary, and not everyone who plays video games will experience its negative effects. Playing video games can be a fun and stress-relieving experience for many people.

A 2022 study found that playing video games during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic generally helped reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness among adolescents and young adults.

Another 2022  study further suggested that video games can effectively reduce depression symptoms, offering a promising, accessible alternative or supplement to traditional therapy. Research interest in this approach is growing rapidly.

Symptoms of Video-Game Induced Depression

The following are the emotional, physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms of video game depression.

Emotional Symptoms

The following are some of the emotional symptoms of video games depression.

  1. Disconnection

Feeling disconnected from one’s own emotions or a sense of detachment from reality, potentially stemming from an excessive focus on the virtual world.

  1. Hopelessness

Experiencing a persistent sense of hopelessness or despair, often caused by challenges in the real world and amplified through the immersive escape of video games.

  1. Anxiety and Tension

Experiencing heightened anxiety and tension, particularly related to in-game achievements, social interactions within the gaming community, or the fear of missing out on gaming experiences.

  1. Low Mood

Consistently experiencing a low mood, which may intensify during periods of non-gaming activities or when facing real-world stressors.

  1. Guilt and Shame

Feeling guilt or shame related to the amount of time spent gaming, neglect of responsibilities, or a perceived failure to meet societal expectations.

  1. Emotional Numbness

Experiencing a dulled emotional response or an inability to feel pleasure or joy outside of the gaming context, potentially indicating a desensitisation to real-world stimuli.

Behavioral Symptoms

The following are the behavioural symptoms of video game depression.

  1. Neglect of Responsibilities

Displaying a lack of interest or neglecting duties such as work, school, or household responsibilities in favor of excessive video game playing.

  1. Isolation from Real-world Activities

Withdrawing from hobbies, physical activities, or social events outside the gaming environment, leading to a narrowed range of interests.

  1. Disrupted Sleep Patterns

Exhibiting irregular sleep habits, including staying up late for gaming sessions or experiencing changes in sleep duration and quality.

  1. Too Much Time Spent Gaming

Engaging in progressively longer gaming sessions, neglecting other aspects of life, and finding it challenging to control or limit the time devoted to gaming.

  1. Irritability and Aggression

Displaying heightened irritability or aggression, especially when interrupted during gaming, can strain relationships with others.

  1. Neglect of Personal Hygiene

Demonstrating a decline in personal grooming and hygiene habits as the focus on gaming takes precedence over self-care routines.

Psychological Symptoms

The following are the psychological symptoms of video game effects on mental health.

  1. Social Withdrawal

Engaging in video games to the detriment of real-world social interactions can lead to social withdrawal and strained relationships.

  1. Impaired Concentration

Difficulty concentrating on tasks outside of gaming settings may impact academic or occupational performance, contributing to frustration.

  1. Escapism and Avoidance

Using video games as a means of avoiding real-life challenges or responsibilities creates a cycle of temporary relief followed by increased stress.

  1. Low-Self Esteem

Comparing oneself unfavorably to in-game achievements or feeling inadequate in real-life situations can contribute to low self-esteem.

  1. Emotional Dysregulation

Experiencing heightened emotions like anger or frustration when unable to play, coupled with difficulty managing emotions in daily life, characterizes emotional dysregulation.

  1. Distorted Perception of Reality

Blurring the lines between the virtual world and reality may lead to challenges in distinguishing between in-game experiences and actual events, potentially impacting decision-making and emotional responses.

Physical Symptoms

The following are the physical symptoms of video game depression.

  1. Fatigue

Excessive gaming can lead to persistent fatigue and a constant sense of tiredness, which can significantly impact daily activities and motivation, affecting overall well-being.

  1. Disrupted Sleep Patterns

Irregularities in sleep, including difficulty falling asleep or frequent waking, can lead to restless nights, contributing to feelings of tiredness and cognitive impairment.

  1. Changes in Appetite

Excessive gaming can disrupt your eating habits. Changes in appetite, such as overeating or loss of appetite, often accompany emotional distress and can have implications for physical health and nutritional balance.

  1. Headaches

Recurrent or chronic headaches, ranging from mild discomfort to severe throbbing, may be triggered by prolonged screen time and intense concentration during gaming sessions. Thus impacting mood, leading to irritability and frustration.

  1. Musculoskeletal Issues

Prolonged sedentary behaviour during video game sessions can result in musculoskeletal issues like back pain, neck strain, and joint stiffness due to a lack of movement and poor posture.

  1. Eye Strain

Eye strain or discomfort, characterised by symptoms like dry eyes and blurred vision, is a common consequence of extended screen exposure during video gaming, potentially leading to long-term visual problems if unaddressed.

Recognizing these signs is crucial for individuals and those around them to address potential video game depression and take steps to manage video game effects on mental health.

Risk Factors

A 2022 study suggests that individuals who are at risk, specifically males, playing video games have negative effects on mental health.

The following are the risk factors that can cause video games depression.

  • Pre-existing mental health conditions can shape how video games affect emotional well-being.
  • Those prone to addictive behaviors may be at a higher risk of negative impacts from extensive gaming.
  • The effectiveness of coping mechanisms plays a role in how individuals manage the potential stress associated with gaming.
  • Certain personality traits, such as impulsivity or introversion, may influence susceptibility to the impact of video games on mental health.
  • Factors like ongoing life stressors or a lack of social support can contribute to the vulnerability of an individual to the effects of gaming.
  • Co-existing mental health issues, even if not diagnosed, may interact with gaming habits to influence emotional well-being.

Significance of Moderation

Moderation of the use of video games is very important to lead a healthy and balanced life, as it can have the following benefits:

  • Establishing reasonable time limits for gaming ensures it remains a positive and controlled leisure activity.
  • Moderation promotes a balance between gaming and other life aspects, such as work, social interactions, and physical activities.
  • By practicing moderation, individuals can avoid excessive gaming, which leads to isolation from real-world social interactions.
  • Moderation helps prevent neglect of responsibilities in other areas of life due to an overemphasis on gaming.
  • Keeping gaming habits in check contributes to positive mental health by preventing potential negative consequences.
  • Moderation supports healthier sleep patterns by avoiding excessive late-night gaming sessions, which can impact overall well-being.

This 2021 study found that video games have a complex impact on adolescent and college student mental health. While obsessive gaming can worsen or correlate with depression and anxiety, moderate play doesn’t negatively affect them. Video games can even be used therapeutically, but more research is needed on addiction and video game effects.

AspectsModerate Video GamingInternet Gaming Addiction
Time SpentLimited, balanced with other activities and responsibilitiesExcessive, consumes most of the day, neglecting other obligations
Impact on LifeMinimal disruption, maintains balance in daily routinesSignificant disruption, neglects work, school, relationships
ControlAble to control gaming habits and stop when necessaryLoss of control, persistent gaming despite negative consequences
Social InteractionBalanced, gaming doesn’t hinder social relationshipsLimited social interaction, preferring gaming over real-life socialization
Mental Health EffectsMaintains physical health, takes breaks during gaming sessionsHealth deterioration due to prolonged sitting, irregular eating/sleeping
Mental Health EffectsEnjoyment without detrimental effects on mental healthObsession leading to anxiety, irritability, and mood disturbances

When to seek help for Video-game-induced depression

The following are the signs that you need to notice and decide when is the right time for you to seek professional help.

  • If emotional, behavioral, psychological, or physical symptoms persist despite attempts to moderate or change gaming habits.
  • When gaming starts affecting daily responsibilities, relationships, work, or school performance.
  • If there is a noticeable increase in social withdrawal and isolation from real-world interactions.
  • When symptoms worsen over time, leading to a more significant negative impact on mental well-being.
  • If personal attempts to manage gaming habits and reduce depressive symptoms prove ineffective.
  • If friends, family, or colleagues express concerns about changes in behavior or well-being related to gaming.
  • When feelings of distress, sadness, or dissatisfaction persist and are primarily linked to gaming activities.
  • When gaming interferes with regular sleep schedules, leading to insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns.
  • If physical symptoms like eyestrain, headaches, or other discomforts persist and are attributed to extended gaming sessions.
  • When efforts to control or reduce gaming time consistently fail, indicating potential loss of control over gaming habits.
  • If there is an increasing dependence on gaming as a primary source of emotional regulation or stress relief activities.
  • When gaming leads to strained relationships with family, friends, or significant others due to neglect or prioritization of gaming activities.
  • If there is a noticeable decline in academic or work-related achievements associated with excessive gaming.
  • If there are persistent thoughts of self-harm or suicide, immediate professional help should be sought.

These indicators highlight the importance of recognizing when video games’ effect on mental health becomes severe and seeking assistance promptly to address underlying issues.

Coping strategies for video game-induced depression

The following are some effective coping strategies for video game depression:

  • Set Time Limits

 Establish clear and reasonable time limits for gaming sessions to prevent excessive use.

  • Schedule Breaks

Take regular breaks during gaming sessions to avoid prolonged screen exposure and promote physical activity.

  • Create a Balanced Schedule

 Ensure a balance between gaming and other essential activities, such as work, study, exercise, and social interactions.

  • Use Alarms or Reminders

Set alarms or reminders to signal the end of gaming sessions, helping to adhere to predetermined time limits.

  • Designate Gaming Spaces

Limit gaming to specific areas of the home, avoiding the temptation to incorporate it into every room.

  • Self-Monitoring

 Regularly assess and reflect on how gaming may be influencing mood, behaviour, and overall well-being.

  • Open Communication

 Foster open communication with friends and family about gaming habits, seeking feedback and support.

  • Diversify Activities

Engage in a variety of activities outside of gaming to maintain a well-rounded and fulfilling lifestyle.

  • Social Interaction

Prioritize real-world social interactions to prevent isolation and strengthen interpersonal connections.

  • Professional Guidance

If concerns persist, consider seeking advice from mental health professionals to address the underlying issues.

  • Mindfulness Practices

Incorporate mindfulness or relaxation techniques to manage stress and maintain emotional balance.

These strategies aim to promote a healthy and balanced approach to video game usage, emphasizing prevention and proactive measures to reduce the potential negative effect of video games on mental health.

To safeguard your physical and mental health while gaming, regularly monitor your mood and behavior. Communicate openly with others, diversify activities, and prioritize real-world interactions to prevent isolation. Seek professional guidance if concerns persist, and use mindfulness practices to manage stress. By being proactive, you can maintain a balanced relationship with video games and prioritize your overall mental well-being.

Self-Help Books

Following are some useful books to understand and manage your video game depression and addiction.

1. The Lure and Cost of Video Games and Internet Addiction by Andrew P Doan

This book explores the allure and consequences of video games and internet addiction.

2. Death by Video Game by Simon Parkin

This book delves into the impact and extremes of video game involvement, examining its influence on individuals.

3. My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game by Ryan G Van Cleave

This book narrates Ryan G. Van Cleave’s personal experience and exploration of video game addiction.

4. Violent Video Games Effects by Craig A Anderson

This book discusses the potential effects of violent video games on behavior and psychology.

5. Working with Video Gamers and Games in Therapy by Anthony M Bean 

This book offers insights into incorporating video games into therapeutic practices and working with gamers.

Therapy-Providing Organizations

Here are some of the online platforms that provide therapy and support that can help you overcome your video game depression.

  • BetterHelp: Online therapy with licensed therapists and a variety of self-help resources.
  • Talkspace: Online therapy with licensed therapists, group therapy, and psychiatry services.
  • Talkiatry: Online psychiatry with medication management for mental health conditions.

Conclusion

In exploring the relationship between video games and mental health, key considerations emerge. Recognizing individual risk factors, signs of video game depression, and implementing coping strategies are essential for a balanced approach to gaming. Moderation plays a pivotal role, emphasizing the importance of setting limits, diversifying activities, and maintaining open communication with friends and family. The answer to the central question, Do video games cause depression? is explained, with evidence suggesting a potential link, particularly when gaming habits become excessive. 

Through this article, we’ve unpacked this complexity, offering insights to empower individuals to navigate their gaming experiences while prioritizing mental well-being. As readers reflect on their gaming habits, let this serve as a reminder to approach video games mindfully, fostering a healthy balance between virtual adventures and the broader spectrum of life experiences.

Frequently Asked Questions ( FAQs)

Following are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions, including:

1. What are the negative effects of video games on mental health?

Excessive video game use can have negative effects on mental health, including an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and social isolation. Prolonged gaming sessions may contribute to sleep disturbances, reduced physical activity, and impaired real-world relationships. It’s crucial to maintain a balance to reduce these potential adverse impacts.

2. How does gaming affect the brain?

Gaming can affect the brain in various ways. Positive effects include improved cognitive functions like problem-solving and spatial awareness. However, excessive gaming may lead to issues such as reduced attention span and impulsivity. The brain’s reward system can be influenced by gaming, potentially contributing to addictive behaviors. Moderation is key to ensuring a healthy impact on the brain.

3. What are some online anxiety games?

While not a direct treatment, some games can help manage anxiety and provide a calming experience. However, it’s essential to consult mental health professionals for tailored anxiety management strategies.

4. Is playing violent games a sin?

Whether playing violent games is considered a sin is subjective and varies among individuals and belief systems. Some argue that it depends on the impact on behavior and values, while others see it as a personal choice. Discussing this with religious or moral authorities can provide more context.

5. What are the positive and negative effects of video games?

The positive effects of video games include enhanced problem-solving skills and social interaction in multiplayer games. Negative effects can include increased aggression, social withdrawal, and potential addiction. Striking a balance and choosing games wisely can maximize the positive aspects.

6. Does gaming worsen depression?

While gaming itself is not a direct cause, excessive gaming might contribute to the worsening of depression symptoms. It can lead to social isolation, disrupted sleep patterns, and the neglect of real-life responsibilities. Recognizing these signs is crucial for intervention.

7. How many hours of gaming are healthy?

Determining a healthy gaming duration depends on individual circumstances. Generally, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 1 to 2 hours per day for children and teenagers. 

This 2014 study linked daily violent video game play (>2 hours) in preadolescents to slightly more depressive symptoms, regardless of ethnicity or gender. Further research is needed on this matter.

8. What are the symptoms of gaming burnout?

Symptoms of gaming burnout include fatigue, irritability, and decreased interest in gaming. It may also manifest as physical discomfort, like headaches or eye strain. Taking breaks, diversifying activities, and seeking professional advice can help alleviate burnout.

9. Do depressed people play video games all day?

While some individuals with depression may turn to video games as a coping mechanism, not all depressed people play games all day. Gaming habits can vary, and it’s essential to address the underlying causes of depression through a comprehensive approach involving mental health professionals.

  1. What video games do depressed people play?

Depressed individuals may play a variety of games based on their personal preferences. Some might find solace in immersive, story-driven games, while others may enjoy casual or competitive multiplayer experiences. The choice of games varies widely, and it’s essential to consider individual tastes and preferences when exploring gaming as a coping mechanism for depression.