6 Ways Games Can Encourage Happiness

written by Rachel Burger on March 3, 2011 in Classic Posts and Special Feature


Last week, I began addressing some myths that have been plaguing the video game industry for years. This week, while also hopefully debunking some myths that were not previously mentioned, I hope to offer some ways that games can keep people healthy and happy.

1. Self-Nurturing.

We need to take care of ourselves in prudent, loving, and respectful ways in order to be happy. Part of doing that is stress relief and taking time out of the day for oneself. Like how many people enjoy drawing, yoga, meditation, and playing sudoku, there are many games that offer low-stress situations for gamers to tune out of the real world for their own mental health. In other words, games offer a moment to breathe and relax.

2. The Rock Star Effect.

Let’s be honest: not everyone can be Lara Croft or a Jedi when they don’t have a controller or mouse in their hand. However, people who have practiced a game that they love and are rewarded for it in the game feel appreciated, kind of like a rock star. In fact, they “achieve the adoration and respect of others for doing something that you love doing.” While playing, gamers have a specific purpose and a clear sense of goals that is appreciated. This kind of personal affirmation carries over to real life; for example, one study found that people who play Guitar Hero are more likely to pick up a guitar and play it!

Napoleon and Joan of Arc: My rock stars of choice

3. Real Life Skills. Seriously.

Becoming a real-life ninja may start with gaming: it’s a well-known fact that gamers who regularly play first person shooters and adventure games are actively improving their hand-eye coordination. More importantly, gaming can improve eyesight and visual attention skills.

4. Getting Social.

While it’s true that a restrictive violent video game and movie diet can lead to antisocial behavior, there are a variety of opportunities that video games offer that can lead to prosocial behavior. Sharing a remote, playing online with friends, and discussing games with others are three great ways that games can encourage social activity. We already know that having friends is a great way to fight depression, so use games to encourage interactive relationships!

5. Nostalgia.

I love talking about the old Pokémon games and have serious brand loyalty to the Sims and Civilization series. Why? Because I grew up playing them. I know I’m not alone when it comes to nostalgia in video games. If something is bothering you, nostalgia is your intellect’s way of coping with that problem, mostly by remembering a great experience. Actually, nostalgia downright makes people happy. Happy people are healthy people.

6. Urgent Optimism

Possibly the most valuable effect video games have on people is a sense of urgent optimism. Urgent optimism is when “we believe whole-heartedly that we are up to any challenge, and we become remarkably resilient in the face of failure.” While this may result in permanent injury or death in real life, gamers can take advantage of the simulated worlds and experience the awe of their imaginary landscape while succeeding at whatever they attempt (even if it takes multiple tries). Research shows that whenever we feel awe or wonder, we become more likely to serve a larger cause and to collaborate selflessly with others. In other words, video games aren’t just great for ourselves, they improve the world overall.

Do you feel happier when you play games? What games make you feel best? Why is that? Let us know in the comments below!