Gaming as outlet for mental health

A first-year student at Durham College watching the Overwatch tournament during their free time between classes Photo credit: Dakota Evans

Athletes are more than just athletes, they’re humans too. They live normal lives outside of practices and games, which means athletes are equally affected by mental and physical health issues. Just like anyone else.

“Like any sport you get that anxiety coming over you where you want to perform well,” said Sean Gamble, who plays Overwatch for the Durham Lords esports team.

Athletes, like basketball star DeMar DeRozan, have come out about suffering from mental illnesses.

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Other athletes, including professionals in hockey and football, have gone public with their mental health challenges.

Even some in the newly blooming field of electronic sports – commonly called esports – such as Luminosity Gaming’s H1Z1 player Per Stian ‘SiigN’ Venas have made their mental health situation known.

“We see more and more athletes, celebrities and leaders show strength while living with a mental illness or show strength when struggling with their mental health,” said Heather Bickle, Health Promotion Coordinator at Durham College.

Publicly enduring ups and downs in front of dozens, hundreds or thousands of people can take its toll.

Athletes are used to getting reactions from audiences while they perform, but increasingly, especially in the esports world, they are getting instant responses about their abilities from social media through live-streaming and live chats.

According to an article by The Guardian, just like any other sport or athlete, esports and video gamers have toxic community followings which involve harassment.

Games like League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and Overwatch, are games in which the developers have implemented an in-game chat service via voice or text allowing enemies and teammates to communicate amongst each other.

The three games listed above have been in the top three of esports in recent years.

According to Gamble, who has been playing Overwatch for the past year, there is toxicity in the community, from vocal harassment to text in Overwatch, although he adds he hasn’t been targeted.

Scott C. Jones, host of the video gaming-focused ‘Heavily Pixelated Podcast,’ told The Globe and Mail video games were an escape from problems he was dealing with in his life, and that video games have “saved his life.”

Gamble agrees.

“You get to put everything [issues in your life] away for a bit and do something that you enjoy doing,” he said.

Gamble also said playing video games is a coping mechanism. Just like any other sport, gamers talk to teammates and other players in the match and let their minds escape what may be bothering them at that time.

A study conducted by The Independent in Feb. of this year quizzed 1,000 people who play video games. The results showed video games can help improve mental health.

According to that study, 47 per cent of players who performed well in their online matches, either in casual play or in competitive scrimmages, acknowledge a positive impact in their lives.

Bickle, who runs the Solace Centre at DC, said, “Video games may not help cope with mental health, but can help teach coping skills.”

Athletes online and offline have gone public about mental health issues, from performance anxiety to depression. Whether it is teaching coping skills or coping, video games can be an outlet.