Skip to content

Building Healthier Relationships With Gaming


In a world where gaming addiction is on the rise, and at the same time, we see the benefits of gaming and grassroots Esports, you can see how confusing and contradictory the different narratives are around gaming.

Despite becoming more mainstream in the last decade, there is plenty of misunderstanding from parents and professionals if they don’t play, and a lack of understanding from many young people who do. This knowledge gap creates a rift between parents and their kids, which becomes problematic and contributes to unhealthy relationships with gaming. 

GameAware exists to bridge that gap and explore the complexity behind games, the people playing them, the psychology of their design, and what healthy gaming looks like.  They firmly believe that it takes one to know one.

Every member of the team, no matter their background, is a gamer.

It’s common for clinicians to struggle to build rapport and access their many valuable skills if they aren’t able to “speak video game”, and that’s where the experts come in.  Gamers at risk of gaming disorder need a dual diagnosis solution. A clinician’s work is so important, and GameAware wants to enable more successful interactions by either teaming up or offering our workshops.

Top 3 tips when working with a gamer using the CARED model.

Explore the intrinsic motivators behind why they are playing and whether or not they are finding ways to fill these buckets in real life.

Establish whether they are playing to escape their real-life circumstances and/or mental health struggles.

Get the child to coach their parents in the game of their choice so that there is a hands-on experience that helps them understand the nuance of the game and the motivation to play it.

Over the course of three years, Matthew, aged sixteen, and his mother have sought the expertise of five different clinicians. He has been struggling with anxiety, depression and school refusal. His neurodivergence has compounded these challenges with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), adding complexity to his situation.

He has faced significant difficulties in establishing a therapeutic relationship with clinicians, primarily due to a lack of understanding of his deep passion for video gaming. This lack of connection led to an immediate defensive response from him, creating a barrier in his treatment pathway.

What other approaches might help?

The upsides of gaming

The Social Aspect of Gaming

Building Communities: For many adolescents, gaming provides a platform to form social connections, especially for those who might feel isolated or marginalized in other settings. Online gaming communities can offer a sense of belonging and a safe space for self-expression.

Contrary to the stereotype of gamers as socially isolated loners, the reality is quite different. The social aspect of gaming has grown exponentially over the past two decades, with a huge growth in online play.

Fortnite has 650 million registered users.

Over 70% of gamers engage in their gaming activities with friends, either in a cooperative or competitive manner. World of Warcraft, for example, boasts 129 million active players, with 1.2 million logging on every day.

Developing Social Skills: Cooperative and multiplayer games can help in developing teamwork, communication, and leadership skills. These virtual interactions can sometimes translate to improved social skills in the real world.

These virtual social communities are not just for entertainment; they serve as spaces where gamers make real-time decisions about trust, rejection, and leadership. This environment provides a unique opportunity for gamers to develop social skills and prosocial behaviours. The skills learned in these virtual settings can potentially transfer to real-world peer and family relationships, fostering improved social interactions and community building outside the gaming environment​​.

Educational and Developmental Benefits

Cognitive Development: Certain games can enhance cognitive skills such as problem-solving, strategic thinking, and spatial awareness. Puzzle and strategy games, particularly, can be akin to mental workouts.

Gamers often have enhanced problem-solving skills. Games often present complex puzzles or challenges that require players to think critically and devise strategic solutions. This kind of problem-solving exercise can be particularly beneficial in developing flexible thinking and the ability to address real-world problems under pressure. Studies like those conducted by Granic, Lobel, and Engels (2014) highlight how problem-solving skills honed in gaming environments can translate to everyday life.

Educational Games: The rise of educational gaming (edutainment) provides an engaging way to learn various subjects, from history to mathematics, often integrating learning objectives seamlessly into gameplay.

The Role of Gaming in Emotional Well-being

Stress Relief: Gaming can be a form of relaxation and stress relief, providing an escape from the pressures of daily life. It can offer a safe environment to unwind and engage in enjoyable activities.

A study by Whitbourne et al. (2013) found that adults who engaged in gaming reported higher levels of relaxation and stress relief. This was attributed to the immersive nature of games, transporting players into alternate worlds and experiences, allowing a temporary detachment from real-world stressors.

That sense of accomplishment associated with successfully completing a task can also contribute significantly to stress relief. Completing in-game tasks, achieving goals, or overcoming challenges offers a certain sense of satisfaction and a positive emotional boost. A study by Russoniello, O’Brien, and Parks (2009) demonstrated that playing casual video games effectively reduced stress and improved mood among participants. Often, it feels easier to achieve things in games than in real life.

Emotional Resilience: Through gaming, adolescents can experience a range of emotions in a controlled environment, which can aid in developing emotional resilience and coping strategies.

The downsides of gaming

The Risk of Addiction and Overuse

Gaming Disorder: The increasing popularity of video games as a dominant form of recreation has raised concerns regarding the potential for dysregulated, unhealthy gaming patterns. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have highlighted the need for research into the potential dysregulated aspects of Internet-based gaming.

Low levels of psychological need satisfaction can predict more dysregulated gaming, while high levels may protect against it. Additionally, frustration of these needs presents a risk for developing dysregulated gaming habits​​. Having one’s needs frustrated is more likely to contribute to dysregulation in gaming behaviour, and this is mirrored in other domains such as education​​ and schooling. There is a complex interplay between gaming, psychological needs, and adolescent well-being.

Disruption of Daily Life: Excessive gaming can significantly impact academic performance. A study by Chiu, Lee, and Huang (2004) found a negative correlation between the amount of time spent on gaming and academic performance. This may be due to the considerable time gaming consumes, which could otherwise be used for studying and attending classes. Moreover, the immersive nature of many games can distract from academic responsibilities, leading to procrastination and a lack of focus on schoolwork.

Mental Health Concerns

Social Isolation: While gaming offers opportunities for social interaction and community building, excessive gaming can have the opposite effect, leading to isolation from in-person interactions and potential impacts on social development and mental well-being.

Excessive gaming can result in decreased time spent in face-to-face interactions, which are crucial for developing and maintaining social skills and relationships. A study by Kowert et al (2014) explored the social implications of online gaming and found that high online engagement can lead to a decrease in offline social activities and interactions. This shift away from real-world interactions to virtual ones can have significant implications, particularly for adolescents who are in critical stages of social development.

Social skills learned and practised in in-person settings, such as non-verbal cues, emotional empathy, and cooperative behaviours, then, may not be as effectively developed in virtual environments. Gentile et al. (2004) showed that children and adolescents who spent more time playing video games exhibited more social isolation and were less able to develop strong social skills,

Anxiety and Depression: Heavy gaming, particularly when it becomes an escape mechanism from real-life stressors, can be associated with increased anxiety levels. A study by Mehroof and Griffiths (2010) found that individuals engaging in excessive online gaming showed higher levels of emotional and e-social anxiety. This sense of anxiety might stem from reliance on virtual worlds to cope with real-life challenges, leading to increased stress when faced with offline situations that gamers feel less equipped to handle.

While some studies indicate a correlation, the directionality of the relationship is not always clear. Does gaming lead to anxiety and depression, or are individuals with mental health challenges drawn to gaming?

Exposure to Inappropriate Content

Violence and Aggression: The link between exposure to violent content and its potential impact on aggressive behaviour in young people has been a subject of considerable debate and research for years. This topic remains contentious, with each new piece of research providing headlines on both sides of the political divide.

The concern is that exposure to violent scenarios within video games could lead to an increase in aggressive thoughts and behaviours in young players. A significant body of research, including a study by Anderson and Bushman (2001), suggests that exposure to violent games can increase aggressive behaviour in children and adolescents. The authors posit that engaging in virtual violence desensitizes individuals to real-world violence, increases hostility, and diminishes empathy.

However, the relationship between violent video games and aggression is complex. While some studies show a correlation, others argue that the impact is minimal or inconclusive. A meta-analysis by Ferguson (2015) challenged the notion that violent video games are linked to criminal violence and aggression, suggesting that the data on this topic might be less straightforward than you think.

Online Safety Risks: Online gaming environments can expose adolescents to risks such as cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and online predators.

Cyberbullying is an issue in online gaming communities. The anonymity and competitive nature of online gaming can lead to an increase in aggressive bullying behaviour. This can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and a decline in academic performance. The competitive environment of many online games can exacerbate these behaviours, as players may use harassment and intimidation as a tactic to gain an advantage or simply as a means of venting frustration.

A study by Lenhart et al. (2015) found that a significant number of teenagers are exposed to a variety of inappropriate content while gaming online. This can have a lasting impact on their development and worldview.

Over time, by exploring intrinsic motivators. Matthew is able to move away from the immediate dopamine reward of video games to something else.

Spending his evenings and weekends building an old-school arcade machine with his father has helped him develop a sense of competence in the real world, as well as a degree of autonomy.

Please contact GameAware by filling out their enquiry form and explore their blog posts or media page.

Selected references

Anderson, C.A. and Bushman, B.J., 2001. Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behavior: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychological science12(5), pp.353-359.

Chiu, S.I., Lee, J.Z. and Huang, D.H., 2004. Video game addiction in children and teenagers in Taiwan. CyberPsychology & Behavior7(5), pp.571-581.

Ferguson, C.J., 2015. Do angry birds make for angry children? A meta-analysis of video game influences on children’s and adolescents’ aggression, mental health, prosocial behavior, and academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science10(5), pp.646-666.

Gentile, D.A., Lynch, P.J., Linder, J.R. and Walsh, D.A., 2004. The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors, and school performance. Journal of adolescence27(1), pp.5-22.

Gentile, D.A., Choo, H., Liau, A., Sim, T., Li, D., Fung, D. and Khoo, A., 2011. Pathological video game use among youths: A two-year longitudinal study. Pediatrics127(2), pp.e319-e329.

Granic, I., Lobel, A. and Engels, R.C., 2014. The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist69(1), p.66.

Hanghøj, T., Lieberoth, A. and Misfeldt, M., 2018. Can cooperative video games encourage social and motivational inclusion of at‐risk students?. British Journal of Educational Technology49(4), pp.775-799.

Kowert, R., Domahidi, E., Festl, R. and Quandt, T., 2014. Social gaming, lonely life? The impact of digital game play on adolescents’ social circles. Computers in human behavior36, pp.385-390.

Lenhart, A., Smith, A., Anderson, M., Duggan, M., & Perrin, A. (2015). Teens, Technology and Friendships. Pew Research Center.

Lobel, A., Engels, R.C., Stone, L.L., Burk, W.J. and Granic, I., 2017. Video gaming and children’s psychosocial wellbeing: A longitudinal study. Journal of Youth and Adolescence46, pp.884-897.

Mehroof, M. and Griffiths, M.D., 2010. Online gaming addiction: The role of sensation seeking, self-control, neuroticism, aggression, state anxiety, and trait anxiety. Cyberpsychology, behavior, and social networking13(3), pp.313-316.

Mills, D.J., Milyavskaya, M., Mettler, J. and Heath, N.L., 2018. Exploring the pull and push underlying problem video game use: A Self-Determination Theory approach. Personality and Individual Differences135, pp.176-181.

Proulx, J.N., Romero, M. and Arnab, S., 2017. Learning mechanics and game mechanics under the perspective of self-determination theory to foster motivation in digital game-based learning. Simulation & Gaming48(1), pp.81-97.

Przybylski, A.K., Rigby, C.S. and Ryan, R.M., 2010. A motivational model of video game engagement. Review of general psychology14(2), pp.154-166.

Przybylski, A.K. and Weinstein, N., 2019. Investigating the motivational and psychosocial dynamics of dysregulated gaming: Evidence from a preregistered cohort study. Clinical Psychological Science7(6), pp.1257-1265.

Russoniello, C.V., O’Brien, K. and Parks, J.M., 2009. The effectiveness of casual video games in improving mood and decreasing stress. Journal of CyberTherapy & Rehabilitation2(1), pp.53-66.

Shi, J., Renwick, R., Turner, N.E. and Kirsh, B., 2019. Understanding the lives of problem gamers: The meaning, purpose, and influences of video gaming. Computers in Human Behavior97, pp.291-303.

Whitbourne, S.K., Ellenberg, S. and Akimoto, K., 2013. Reasons for playing casual video games and perceived benefits among adults 18 to 80 years old. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking16(12), pp.892-897.




Infective Endocarditis

, ,
RSV protection HEADER

Protection from RSV

Copy of Trial (1)

Bubble Wrap PLUS – July 2024

Copy of Trial (1)

The 82nd Bubble Wrap


Management of Button Battery Ingestion

, ,

Cervical Spine Imaging in Kids – the PECARN rule

, , ,

The ‘Hidden C’


Necrotising Enterocolitis

Copy of Trial (1)

Bubble Wrap PLUS – June 2024

Copy of Trial (1)

The 81st Bubble Wrap


Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn


Diagnosing acute post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis

Not a fever HEADER

When is a fever not ‘just a fever’?

Copy of Trial (1)

Bubble Wrap PLUS – May 2024

Copy of Trial (1)

The 80th Bubble wrap x DFTB MSc in PEM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 thought on “Building Healthier Relationships With Gaming”