Although the gaming community is capable of great things (BBC News - Gamer Hbomberguy hands funding row charity Donkey Kong boost), it’s also got a darker side. Toxic behaviour can be rife in many online games, where people can hide behind the mask of anonymity. It might be easy to just dismiss this as just ‘banter’ or ‘trolling’, but constant exposure can have a real effect on people, especially if they’re already feeling depressed or anxious. It is a sad reality that gamers are told to kill themselves every day online; while someone in a good frame of mind might be able to ignore it, someone who’s struggling might take those words to heart.
There’s also the simple fact that it’s not fun to be around. When you’re trying to relax and enjoy yourself, sitting through torrents of hate is unhelpful at best.
With that in mind, it’s worth making use of the tools that are available to you. Some online games prevent communication entirely – Hearthstone, for example, only allows the use of pre-set emotes. Even in games with full chat, however, there’s usually a mute function or ignore list available. If someone’s harassing you or being unpleasant, don’t be afraid to cut them out on the first offense. If you give them a second chance, you risk being drawn into frustrating arguments or receiving more hurtful comments that could drop your mood and ruin your day.
Don’t forget that the same applies both ways. There are a lot of frustrating games out there (particularly the team ones – League and Dota, for example) and it’s often very tempting to vent your annoyance at the people you’re playing with. Although it might feel good for a moment, however, it’s generally not a helpful habit to fall into. By sharing your frustration you’ve dropped the mood of everyone that listens to you, which is more likely to make them toxic towards you in turn. Not to mention the fact that a calm player is a good player, and if you make all your teammates angry, they’ll start playing much worse, or even deliberately throw the game – which just fuels the cycle.
Instead, use your regular breaks to let go. If you need to vent, vent. Hit a pillow, crush a stress ball, talk to yourself, whatever you need to do to release – but then relax. Breathe slowly and deeply, shake some of the tension out of your shoulders, stretch a bit, then get back to it. Just thirty seconds can help, and you’ll be a better player to boot.
If this keeps becoming a problem – then stop. Games should not be something that drags your mood down, and beating your head against a wall hoping it will become fun is not going to help. Find something else to play instead.
Don’t let games take over
First things first: you should always try and play games in a clean place. Although you might not notice it while your eyes are on the screen, if you’re surrounded by mess it’s going to affect how you feel. You might start to feel uncomfortable, there might be guilty thoughts about not keeping up, and there might even be health hazards depending on just how messy it gets.
Taking half an hour to clear away rubbish and wipe away the dust can make a big difference – you’ll feel good about achieving something and your environment will be healthier (plus it should give you more room to move around your mouse and there’ll be nothing blocking your screen).
Similarly, it’s important to maintain a social life. Games are great fun but they can’t replace real human relationships. This is not to say you should be going to parties every day – I certainly don’t – but something as simple as messaging a friend on Facebook can keep things in a good place. You don’t necessarily have to choose between them, either; playing with someone you know in local co-op or via online services can be great fun.
Nerdy hobbies are becoming more and more mainstream nowadays, and a quick search online should reveal any number of local board game, table-top, and other gaming groups, where you can spend time with like-minded people.
You can also make friends in games themselves. Despite the points about toxicity above, there are plenty of good, positive communities out there who are welcoming to new members. Try looking up the clans or guilds in your favourite game; most of them will have Discord servers, forums, or other social features.
Games do tend to be more fun together, and as many people can attest, some life-long friendships can be formed online. It can be particularly valuable as a social outlet for people with health conditions that prevent them from leaving the house. Just make sure you’re living in the real world as well as the virtual one.
Contrary to popular misconception, gaming is not an inherently unhealthy hobby – but that doesn’t mean you can stop looking after yourself entirely. Keep the above tips in mind and you should find yourself feeling healthier and more positive.
If you feel like your problems aren’t shifting, or if you’d like some support with your mental health, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us, or sign yourself up to our online therapy programme Silvercloud, using the details on this website.
- Henry Sawdon-Smith, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner