Sure gaming can cause stress. But can it also relieve it?

Online gaming can definitely cause stress and anxiety. But the science shows it can also relieve stress and anxiety. So how does that work?

We all know about the dangers when gaming goes into overdrive. When kids (and sometimes their parents) become so obsessed with getting to that next level, their interest in life itself - real life itself - can take a serious hit.

But focusing on the negative can obscure an equally valid finding: which is that gaming can also be a powerful way to relieve stress and refresh us to re-engage. And that goes for kids and adults alike.

According to Australian Games Industry Statistics, 

  • 91 per cent of Australian households own a video game device.
  • The average of a video game player in Australia is 34 years old.
  • Nearly half of those playing video game players are female.
  • Older Australians also love to play, with 42 per cent of those aged 65 and over identifying as gamers.

More than half of us played video games in 2020 - and the industry has seen a US$20 billion spike over the past 12 months. And yes of course a good part of the boom has been driven by pandemic restrictions. Yet experts are doubtful that the upward trend will reverse itself any time soon. Or ever, really.

The upside of escapism

Recent studies are suggesting that might not be such a bad thing. Are video games a form of escapism? Definitely. But so are most movies, boardgames, TV, books and plays - at least at some level. Just because a symbolic experience takes us “out of ourselves,” as we like to say, doesn’t make it dangerous. In fact, just the opposite. 

A good game - just like a good book - can enlarge our experience, taking us to places that expand our imaginations, even encouraging empathy by symbolically putting us in the shoes of another. And the research is starting to bear all this out.

The good news on healthy gaming

A recent National Institutes of Health study, for example, found that gaming can reduce the symptoms of depression. (Granted, it also found violent, shooter-style games can cause adrenaline to surge. No surprises there!).

More evidence of the health benefits of certain types of gaming emerged from a study published in February in the journal Royal Society Open Science. At least for gamers playing simple games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Plants vs. Zombies, the authors concluded there was “a small positive relation between game play and affective wellbeing.” 

"If we paint all digital play with this broad brush of addiction, a lot of kids are going to miss out on some of those benefits and they're going to be anxious about why something that they really enjoy and is positive in their lives is being called addictive and bad." Dr Marcus Carter, University of Sydney

A journal called Games for Health clearly takes a point of view on the matter. At the same time, it's a serious, peer-reviewed publication. A recent report reviewed the findings of 13 studies on the impact of gaming on stress, anxiety and overall mental health.

The review found “significant improvements” in mood and stress after subjects played games that were “simple, easy-to-use and casual.” Strikingly, these mental health outcomes were better than those observed after a passive break (watching TV, for example), surfing the web or participating in a relaxation activity.

gamingIt's easy to demonise gaming and to lose sight of its benefits, say researchers.

University of Sydney gaming researcher Marcus Carter warns that too much emphasis on the risks associated with gaming can itself have negative consequences.

"If we paint all digital play with this broad brush of addiction, a lot of kids are going to miss out on some of those benefits and they're going to be anxious about why something that they really enjoy and is positive in their lives is being called addictive and bad," Dr Carter told the ABC recently.

Benefits for adults, too

And the support for that perspective is mounting - and not with respect to kids. Many gaming psychologists - yes, that’s a thing - see benefits for adult stress-relief and self-care as well. Psychologist Megan Connell, for example, recommends games like Stardew Valley for adults looking to unwind and relax.

“I find this game helpful as there are goals, yet there isn’t stress or pressure to get to all of the goals. There are also many different ways to play and there isn’t one that is better than any other.”

That freedom, flexibility and lack of pressured goals are qualities that may differentiate healthful games from riskier ones.

The bottom line? Gaming is, first and foremost, a form of play. And that’s an essential element for a balanced, creatively satisfying life for all of us. 


Healthy gaming starts with firm screen-time boundaries.

Family Zone can help.

Find out why we're Australia's leading digital safety provider -  and start your free trial today.

Tell me more!

Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Excessive Device Usage, online gaming, gaming addiction, gaming disorder, healthy gaming

    Try Family Zone for FREE

    Sign up now to try Family Zone for 1 month, totally free of charge.

    Free Trial
    Subscribe to our newsletter
    Follow us on social media
    Popular posts
    Parental Controls | Cyber Safety | Cyber Experts | parenting | roblox
    Roblox: What parents must know about this dangerous game for kids
    Parental Controls | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | teens on social media
    Can we talk? 100 questions your teen might actually answer
    Parental Controls | Screen time | online gaming | roblox | sleep
    Family Zone: Now blocking Roblox with a single click
    Cyber Bullying | Parental Controls | Screen time | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | online predators | tiktok | paedophile | child predator | Likee
    LIKEE: What parents need to know about this risky TikTok wannabe
    Parental Controls | Screen time | online gaming | Fortnite | discord
    Discord: What parents need to know
    Parental Controls | online gaming | Social Media | primary school | krunker
    Krunker has landed - and it's got our kids in the crosshairs

    Recent posts

    How TikTok's funhouse mirror is distorting our kids' view of the world

    TikTok's algorithm pushes vulnerable kids toward risky content and risky behaviours, from eating disorders to self-harm.

    Would you pay to limit your own social media screen-time?

    We love our social platforms - but we also wish we spent less time on them.  A new study has found adult users are happy to pay for help in ...

    "Constant overstimulation" affecting kids' learning

    Teachers who've been observing concerning changes in students’ wellbeing aren’t imagining things. The constant overstimulation from screens ...

    Your child has less privacy online than kids in the US, UK & Ireland

    Aussie kids are sitting ducks for targeted online ads and privacy pirates, and will remain so until we enact protective legislation.