Long time readers of my blog know that my son, Geeky Boy, has suffered from depression on and off for years. You may or may not also know that he’s a pretty hardcore gamer. That’s why this article in Slate by Jane McGonigal makes complete sense to me. She argues that the opposite of play is depression and that therefore, video games are often a coping mechanism for depression. They are not a solution, and in fact, she explains that just escaping into games is not a solution. One has to be deliberate about translating the positive effects of gaming into the real world.
I, too, suffered from depression about 10 years ago and used both general online activity and gaming specifically to fight those feelings. I got some professional help, but I also started doing some reflection on what I was learning about myself through gaming and online interactions that could translate into the real world. McGonigal suggests, for example, that gamers tend to be goal-oriented and resilient in the face of a setbacks. That kind of mindset is easily transferrable into the real world:
Although everyday life may not always activate your brain in the same way as a video game, you can start to see yourself as someone who is goal-oriented, resilient in the face of setbacks, and always able to learn and improve.
She has a tool that she’s developed to help people use a game-based approach to improve their mood and accomplish goals. Her research indicates that the tool has been helpful for a lot of people. This area of using technology and apps to improve mental health is the next frontier for “the quantified self.” There are devices and apps that track our steps, our heart rate, our periods, and other physical health data. I think there will be more mental health apps coming. Maybe these will finally help remove the stigma associated with mental health issues, which, to me, is the most important barrier to improving people’s lives.