Fact or Fiction: Does Playing Video Games Alleviate Stress?

What are the effects of video games on the human psyche? It’s a subject that’s been tackled time after time by people in the industry (to sell games), lawmakers (to govern society), lawyers (to make an argument), and even scientists, to get to the scientific facts of the matter. But is it fact or fiction? Does playing games really reduce stress?

It’s not that much of a farfetched idea if you think about it. When we’re stressed, the first thing we do is seek some form of relaxation. And while this may come in many shapes or forms, it’s a pretty well-known fact that millions of people worldwide enjoy gaming. This is why the correlation between playing games and stress relief has been researched to the point it’s been even backed up by scientific research. What’s more, this may extend to other forms of gaming like playing no deposit slots or other casino games. However, for the sake of the article, we’ll be focusing on gaming in the generic sense, where the term ‘gamer’ will be used loosely and will refer predominantly to those who practice their pastime on consoles.

The Covid Effect

Hands up who tried out some form of video gaming during Covid? While we were all locked up in our houses and apartments there was plenty of time to kill and for many of us, plenty of stress too. Escapism, in the form of gaming, was in boom time – along with other forms of escapism such as drinking, baking, gambling, and Netflix.

Reports showed that “34% of American consumers tried a new video gaming service during the pandemic”, a wild number compared to previous years’ new uptake. But did they play reduce people’s stress?

Can Video Games Reduce Stress?

Numerous studies have been undertaken into the effect of video games on people. Back in the 1990s there were even lawsuits brought about that alleged that video games were behind violence committed by teenagers.

In a 2021 literature review, researchers from Milano, Italy, found that commercial off-the-shelf can help reduce stress and anxiety, thanks to the data obtained from no less than 28 different studies conducted over the course of 2006-2021. The studies showed decreasing stress and anxiety, from playing games, in children, young adults, middle-aged adults, and older-adults, although the studies for the most part targeted the young adult cohort.

Can Video Games be Built Specifically to Destress?

If you have ever tried a game like the I Love Hue app, you will be aware of the game dynamics, sounds, colors, and lack of stressors. The whole experience is designed to be a calm-state way to unwind. While Call of Duty might not be designed to soothe you, some games are – and there are studies to back it up.

A 2022 publication, Stress-Relieving Video Game and Its Effects: A POMS Case Study, details a purpose-built game for stress relief and its effects through the Profile of Mood States (POMS) and POMS-2 survey. The results showed that the game was indeed useful in helping to relieve stress among the participants.

On the Physical Stress Response

Many games are well known to produce a physical stress response in people. You’ll know them by when your heart is thumping while you’re trying to see around the corner if an enemy is there, or when you can’t help yelling in excitement when you’re racing against a friend in a multiplayer game going around the racetrack.

When threat and challenge are presented in video games, the results are as would be expected. One study, Video Games and Stress: How Stress Appraisals and Game Content Affect Cardiovascular and Emotion Outcomes, showed that for fighting games, increased blood pressure and decreased heart rate variability was the outcome from play – both of which are stress responses. However, in the gameplay, there were no negative emotions attached, a key indicator of acute stress.

Beware of Addiction

Video game addiction, as with many addictions, can present as a common co-occurrence of poor mental health. One such study that decided to go a little deeper into this well-known fact discovered two important things to note. Firstly, that maladaptive coping could somewhat explain the link between video game addiction (although gaming for distraction showed no correlation to mental health). The second point was that highly engaged video game players who also had maladaptive coping styles may be more at risk of falling into addiction.

This is a good point to remember if you are an immersive gamer. If you are already aware that you are not great at coping with the curveballs that life throws at you, then it might be a good idea to step away from the controller for a bit. Although video game addiction may seem innocuous, it can grow to be a big detriment to your life if you aren’t good at setting boundaries around play or find yourself not being able to stop.


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