As someone who’s invested a significant portion of their life to video games, it’s kind of painful for me to admit that they’ve rarely been good for my mental health. I think they were most helpful when I was a child, when sitting with a Gameboy could temporarily take me out of difficult situations I shouldn’t have been in at such a young age. But if I look at my adolescence and some of my young adulthood, it’s obvious that I learned that lesson too well and started prioritizing escapism over everything else.
Something I think about a lot is Matt Lee’s idea that video games are some of the most efficient tools we have for making large chunks of time disappear, and it’s uncomfortable to look back and see my own life dotted with periods defined only by the games I was playing. My mental health was seriously compromised during those times, and games were an easy way of glossing over my issues without addressing any of the underlying causes. There was an episode around the time I turned 21 where things got especially bad, and thinking back to how desperate I was to seal myself in a cocoon of games is sobering now.
I want to say that getting older and becoming more stable has helped me correct my behavior, but that’s only half-true. Even though I’m objectively better off in almost every way than I was when I was younger, I still probably spend too much time playing video games, and I still feel the pull of the safety and numbness that they offer. It’s only recently that I’ve figured out that I actually enjoy games more when they’re part of a more balanced life, rather than the main thing I devote my (free) time to. So over the past two years or so I’ve been making an effort to pack out my schedule with more social activities, but it’s always just that; an effort. If I stop paying attention for too long, it’s very easy for me to fall back into old habits.
None of this is to say that I think games are inherently bad, or can only negatively impact your mental health. Like I said, I’m pretty sure actually helped me in some ways as child. It’s just an honest reflection on the relationship I’ve had with them throughout my life.