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PAX Report: Are games good for our mental health?

Patrick Lindsey April 7, 2012 - 2:46 pm

News: BeefJack’s Patrick Lindsey is at PAX East, where clinical psychologist Dr Mark Klein has spoken in favour of play in all aspects of life on the Gaming and Mental Health panel.

What is the relationship between video games and mental health? Does gaming have a negative effect on our mental well-being? Not according to clinical psychologist Dr Mark Klein.

Through his work with Human Relations Services, Dr Klein frequently deals with children and adolescents, as well as their parents and families, and yes, the topic of video games does come up quite a bit. Though he admits there is a professional stigma that still surrounds gaming, Klein feels like video games have gotten a bad rap over the years.

He recently took a brief foray into World of Warcraft to better understand why we play, and during the course of his experience (during which he said he “became WoW’s bitch”) he discovered that far from disconnecting us from reality, video games actually capitalize on our mind’s natural affinity to view the world in “gameful” ways.

“We all have a natural tendency to play ‘the game of you’,” Klein says, which he describes as just our own social interactions, personal dramas, and key influential characters. In this light, video games are just the natural evolution of this process into the digital age.

This gameful tendency is naturally expressed most clearly in – you guessed it – small children, who use imaginative play like that found in video games as a means to process the world around them and learn important new concepts.

Short of being harmful to childhood development, Klein believes that inhibiting this kind of play directly leads to negative impacts on development, with common mental ailments like depression, boredom, and restlessness all being symptoms of cutting off that kind of imaginative play.

Of course Dr Klein did note that there are negative effects of too much gaming, and the stories  of people losing long tracks of time, neglecting sleep, and letting their social relationships suffer are well known to us all. Though Klein thinks these problems come not from people getting lost in gaming (which he thinks that we all have a “right” to do), but to people who fail to find their way back out again.

But as long as we enjoy gaming culture as a means to augment and enhance our reality rather than replace it, Klein thinks that gaming can in fact be one of the most healthy things we can do.

You can keep up with all of BeefJack’s PAX coverage here.

This week, we took a look at what teachers really think about videogames.

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