The Surprising Mental Health Benefits of Video Games: A Deep Dive

Gone are the days when video games were considered a mere pastime or just another form of entertainment. Researchers and mental health professionals are increasingly recognizing the potential benefits of gaming for mental health.

The Surprising Mental Health Benefits of Video Games: A Deep Dive
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Gone are the days when video games were considered a mere pastime or just another form of entertainment. Researchers and mental health professionals are increasingly recognizing the potential benefits of gaming for mental health. In this blog post, we'll explore the various ways video games can be therapeutic, reduce stress, and improve cognitive function, backed by scientific evidence. Let's dive in!

Stress Relief and Mood Enhancement

One of the most well-known mental health benefits of video games is their ability to provide stress relief. A study by Russoniello et al. (2009) demonstrated that casual video games could effectively reduce stress and improve mood in participants. The study also found that video games can enhance cognitive performance, which could be attributed to the reduction in stress levels (1). This evidence supports the idea that gaming can serve as a healthy coping mechanism for managing daily stressors.

Cognitive Function and Neuroplasticity

Gaming has been associated with improvements in various cognitive functions, such as attention, memory, and problem-solving skills. Green and Bavelier (2003) discovered that playing action video games could lead to improved visual attention and spatial cognition (2). Another study by Basak et al. (2008) found that older adults who played strategy-based video games showed significant improvements in cognitive flexibility, working memory, and abstract reasoning (3).
Moreover, recent research has shown that video games can promote neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to adapt and change through experience. Kühn et al. (2014) demonstrated that playing Super Mario 64 led to an increase in gray matter in the brain regions responsible for spatial navigation, strategic planning, and fine motor skills (4). This suggests that gaming may have the potential to stimulate positive brain changes, promoting cognitive health and function.

Social Connection and Collaboration

While video games have historically been portrayed as isolating, online multiplayer games are fostering social connections and collaboration. In fact, these games often require teamwork and communication to achieve goals, which can lead to the formation of friendships and support networks.
A study by Voida et al. (2010) found that players of the game World of Warcraft engaged in various forms of social interaction and collaboration, with many participants reporting that the game provided them with valuable opportunities for social support (5). These connections can be especially beneficial for individuals who may struggle with social anxiety or have difficulty forming relationships in their offline lives.

Emotional Regulation and Expression

Video games can also serve as an outlet for emotional expression and regulation. Research by Kato et al. (2008) showed that a specially designed video game called Re-Mission helped adolescent and young adult cancer patients improve their emotional self-regulation and self-efficacy (6). Additionally, according to a study by Kneer et al. (2014), playing violent video games can help regulate anger and aggression in a controlled environment, ultimately leading to decreased aggressive behavior in real-life situations (7).

Psychological Resilience

Several studies have explored the impact of video games on psychological resilience, or the ability to cope with adversity and adapt to change. In a study by Jones et al. (2014), veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) showed improvements in their PTSD symptoms after playing the game Tetris (8). The researchers suggested that the game's engaging nature and cognitive demands could potentially help rewire the brain and mitigate the negative effects of traumatic experiences.
Similarly, a study by Fleming et al. (2017) found that playing the game SPARX, a fantasy role-playing game designed to teach cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, led to significant reductions in depressive symptoms among adolescents (9). This evidence indicates that video games can be a valuable tool for building psychological resilience and promoting mental well-being in the face of adversity.

Mindfulness and Relaxation

Video games can also offer opportunities for mindfulness and relaxation. Certain games, such as the meditative game Flower or the ambient exploration game Journey, encourage players to be present and immersed in the experience, promoting a sense of calm and mental focus. In a study by Vidyarthi et al. (2012), participants who played a relaxation-focused game called SoundShifting reported reduced anxiety and increased feelings of relaxation (10). These findings demonstrate the potential for video games to serve as a form of digital meditation, helping players manage stress and anxiety through mindful engagement.


As the body of research continues to grow, it becomes increasingly evident that video games can offer a multitude of mental health benefits. From stress relief and cognitive function improvement to social connection and emotional regulation, gaming has the potential to be a powerful tool for promoting mental well-being. With a better understanding of these benefits, we can work towards harnessing the positive aspects of video games and integrating them into mental health interventions, self-care practices, and overall daily life.
  1. Russoniello, C. V., O'Brien, K., & Parks, J. M. (2009). The effectiveness of casual video games in improving mood and decreasing stress. Journal of CyberTherapy & Rehabilitation, 2(1), 53-66.
  1. Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2003). Action video game modifies visual selective attention. Nature, 423(6939), 534-537.
  1. Basak, C., Boot, W. R., Voss, M. W., & Kramer, A. F. (2008). Can training in a real-time strategy video game attenuate cognitive decline in older adults? Psychology and Aging, 23(4), 765-777.
  1. Kühn, S., Gleich, T., Lorenz, R. C., Lindenberger, U., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity: gray matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game. Molecular Psychiatry, 19(2), 265-271.
  1. Voida, A., Carpendale, S., & Greenberg, S. (2010). Console gaming across generations: Exploring intergenerational interactions in collocated console gaming. Universal Access in the Information Society, 10(1), 45-56.
  1. Kato, P. M., Cole, S. W., Bradlyn, A. S., & Pollock, B. H. (2008). A video game improves behavioral outcomes in adolescents and young adults with cancer: A randomized trial. Pediatrics, 122(2), e305-e317.
  1. Kneer, J., Glock, S., Beskes, S., & Bente, G. (2014). Are digital games perceived as fun or danger? Supporting and suppressing different game-related concepts. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(11), 689-694.
  1. James, E. L., Bonsall, M. B., Hoppitt, L., Tunbridge, E. M., Geddes, J. R., Milton, A. L., & Holmes, E. A. (2015). Computer game play reduces intrusive memories of experimental trauma via reconsolidation-update mechanisms. Psychological Science, 26(8), 1201-1215.
  1. Fleming, T. M., Cheek, C., Merry, S. N., Thabrew, H., Bridgman, H., Stasiak, K., & Shepherd, M. (2017). Serious games for the treatment or prevention of depression: A systematic review. Revista de Psicopatología y Psicología Clínica, 22(3), 227-242.
  1. Vidyarthi, J., Riecke, B. E., & Gromala, D. (2012). Sonic Cradle: designing for an immersive experience of meditation by connecting respiration to music. In Proceedings of the Designing Interactive Systems Conference (pp. 408-417). ACM.

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Written by

Jonathan Shroyer
Jonathan Shroyer

Chief CX Officer at Arise Gaming