Games have so much to teach us, and the skills we’ve learned from our nerdy habits can work for us in our everyday lives by improving our mental health. During my studies with my master’s degree in applied psychology, this area was intriguing to me and sparked a curiosity to see how us nerds can use games to our advantage. During times of my life where I have struggled with bouts of depression or a season of anxiety, playing games with simple tasks, such as Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing, made a world of difference to recenter myself. Feeling like I had accomplished something, even with an insignificant “chore” such as harvesting a crop of parsnips, helped me feel better and more mentally equipped to handle the next thing on my real-life to-do list. Finding a group of awesome nerdy friends in Love Thy Nerd’s Twitch channel has also served as a much needed emotional pick-me-up and point of low-stress social connection on days when I’m feeling low. While Mental Health Awareness month is almost over, I know games have the power to help heal us, so here are some tips on how to use your nerdy skills to improve your mental health into the summer and beyond.
Nerds are pretty good at not giving up on challenges. Instead, we find new and creative solutions to struggles that feel overwhelming. Role-playing games encourage problem-solving skills and critical thinking, such as coming up with the perfect plan to take out the final boss (and learning from the 200 times you fail … looking at you, Elden Ring). In-game discussions, such as those found in the social deduction game Among Us, encourage players to deal with conflict in conversation as a group and come to conclusions on their shared quest to uncover the imposter; the game provides opportunities to think critically about the puzzles in communication and relationship building. Other games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild allow players to try out different strategies to solve puzzles with plenty of room for forgiveness to start over and try something new. The rewards gained after putting in the effort embolden us nerds to try again to get that pair of climbing boots or new bow. Applying those patterns of thinking to real-life problems allows you to make better decisions, helps you gain confidence, and encourages positive thinking as you gain experience.
- The Benefits of Playing Video Games – American Psychological Association
- Are There Mental Health Benefits of Video Games? -WebMD
Self-care happens easily in-game but not so much IRL. When your vitality is rapidly nosediving in The Witcher 3 from taking on a griffin contract, you grab a Swallow potion to give yourself a boost. When your entire lineup of Pokémon is about to pass out on Route 113, you head back to a Pokémon Center. What about in your everyday life? Take breaks when you can, even if it’s just 5 minutes away from your computer to stretch or do a quick chore. This can lower stress, boost your mood, and even improve your attention. If you’re playing with friends, don’t forget to have some designated introvert (or extrovert!) time to rest and recharge your social batteries. Don’t forget to eat a healthy meal that’s not mac and cheese or donuts. Hydrate with actual water! With a rejuvenated body and mind, you’ll be ready to take on the Wild Hunt and the Elite 4 in no time.
Where’s your safe place? We all need a place where we feel loved. Positively connecting with others who accept us and are like-minded has been found to lower anxiety and depression. Building relationships with others is valuable for our well-being and allows us to better manage and regulate our own emotions, especially now when social connection may look different and be harder for some folks with the pandemic. The ability to socialize around a shared passion can make such a positive difference in our mental health and our ability to cope with life challenges. Where is your community? Are there any local tabletop groups that you could connect with to play? Is there a community that focuses on a certain game that you’re into or want to learn? If you’re currently looking for a place, join our Discord or Facebook Community and see if it works for you!
- Connectedness & Health: The Science of Social Connection– Stanford Medicine
We learn so many skills from playing games, and while this article focuses mostly on video games, tabletop games can also be beneficial, especially in the areas of flexing our imagining and socializing muscles. With scholarly research on games increasing, we will only continue to learn more about how games can positively impact our mental health and how we can love other nerds (and ourselves!) even better.