Gamers have often been stereotyped as introverts trapped in a fantasy world. Gameplay allows them to escape the real world. To an extent, there is truth to this idea: games have provided a form of escapist relief, perhaps even more so today with the advancement of technology allowing immersive experiences. It is for this reason that people sometimes turn to games as a coping mechanism for the various stressors in life.
Video games can serve as a form of emotion-focused coping, a strategy that is focused on managing emotional responses to various stressors. Imagine that nerve-wracking thesis paper that has been keeping you up at night in preparation for the defense. To reduce anxiety, you play video games, read books, or stress eat; these behaviors don’t help you prepare for the defense, but they allow you to experience positive emotions associated with those behaviors which lead to a reduction of stress. The reduced stress will then allow a person to feel refreshed as they address the problems brought by the initial stressor.
“Role playing games like Persona 5 give me the satisfaction of accomplishing something and checking things off a task list, while competitive games like fighting games or Valorant give me the satisfaction of feeling that I’ve improved” said Eesy, a competitive fighting game player. Eesy said games satisfy all the mentioned sensations without having to interact or do things that he does not really want to do.
Esports and escapism
Escapism does have benefits such as the promotion of creative thoughts that are being hindered by stress. Unchecked however, it can lead to procrastination and dissociation (a disconnect with our sense of self.) Fourth year college student Ky said: “I used to play games to cope with life’s stresses, but now, I don’t feel that it helps as much,” to which I asked her the purpose as to why she plays games in the first place.
If you are a competitive player, and your purpose for gaming shifts from a relaxing hobby to a stressful grind for ranking points, gaming experiences will definitely feel more stressful. Too much gaming in a short amount of time under stress can also lead to a player being desensitized to the original feelings that playing a game initially brings to a person which can result in less satisfaction and fulfillment.
As a tournament player, Eesy said games provide an outlet for his competitive drive, but at some point, the expectations on his performance turned stressful which is why he turned to other, non-competitive games as a form of detox from his usual crop: Games being used to cope with other games. This echoes the idea that since people are unique and also have unique lived experiences, no coping- mechanism is universally appropriate for an individual. There will be times where gaming can help you cope with the stress of taking a final exam, but there will definitely be times wherein the stress will only be relieved by properly studying and preparing for the test.
Anchored upon personal responsibilities and an accurate perception of the world, gaming can be therapeutic. Games are becoming more and more accessible to the public, therefore, it needs to be evaluated fairly by both gamers and non-gamers alike. As both a tool and medium of expression, games have their benefits. But like every tool, if used irresponsibly or left unchecked, they can be harmful and detrimental to the user.
About the author: James Dominic Flores is a lecturer at Far Eastern University Manila, specializing in psychology. He is also a competitive gamer specializing in fighting games.