The Column

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Video games and depression: Is it self-hypnosis?

I've attempted this ... even down to all-night sessions of FreeCiv, or a few mindless hours of FreeCell. Haven't tried Bejeweled (which this article features), though.

And, you've got to admit, the video or computer games do have a real tranquilizing effect ... like I can't remember why I was so depressed. Hours melt away (I'm still not sure whether this is a good thing). It's a real good way to isolate.

Here's the story from the Washington Post:

Gail Nichols has suffered from depression for years. When the 49-year-old resident of St. Marys, Kan., cannot sleep, she falls back on a form of entertainment that is gaining increasing credibility as a medical intervention: video games ... Nichols said she discovered the mental health benefits of video games some years ago during a particularly bad spell of depression. She had just started playing a game called Bejeweled, which requires players to move gems into rows based on their color. When she could not get to sleep one night and was tormented by mental pain, she said, she turned on the computer and played the game for hours ... "In the day, you can find someone to talk to," Nichols said. "Games are a big help in getting through to the next morning."

Here's how it works:

The researcher hypothesized that one reason for the apparent mental health benefits of video games is that many people in Western countries find it impossible to switch off; they are always alert and stressed out. When those Type A people try to relax, they get bored because they have come to require a certain level of stressful arousal. Playing certain video games, Russoniello said, offers just enough mental challenge to keep such people occupied while putting them into a state of relative mindlessness ...

Kind of like self-hypnosis.

OK. I've mentioned this before. A good long bike ride does wonders for me; it's like Prozac without the side effects. Some carefully-selected songs on the mp3 player help a lot, too.

But this is still interesting, and if things get particularly ugly I can download Bejeweled onto my cell phone -- but I have a solitaire game on there already.