Gamers and Mental Health

The world has changed drastically in the last four decades, and as we continue to move into the future, we need to keep an eye on where we have been.  Gamer culture has developed out of this set of changes as the highly technical tabletop games of the 70s like D&D and Battletech gave way to modern computer games.  What was once done first strictly in person, then moved to blackboard systems online and finally to fully interactive MMOs, has dynamically shifted the method in which we interact with each other as a subculture.  Add in social media, which allows us to share the almighty meme where tropes of our various fandoms can thrive and become accessible to even those without a clear understanding of them, means that Gamer culture has moved from the all to often literal dark basements to the mainstream.

It was a long road to get here, however.  For many of us, some of us now older than 40, the road to this level of social acceptance has been both long and arduous.  Wearing fandom based clothing was often the mark of the outcast, and we created for ourselves a literal caste within society that was often known for being just a bit weird, sometimes elitist, and all too often maligned by those around us.  As we step forward into the future, with the generation of our children being introduced to our various fandoms and games without the stigma that it carried when we were children, we need to remember where we’ve been and how we had to cope with those things that caused us mental and emotional pain.

As a whole, Generation Y, now known as the Millennial Generation, and the largest group of gamers that have reached adulthood, have suffered from a disproportionate number of mental health problems.  This ranges from higher rates of depression, suicide, misdiagnosed ADHD and undiagnosed ADHD, an expanding understanding of the Autism spectrum and other mental health issues discovered and determined, than previous generations.  There are any number of causes for this: increased media exposure, the rise of the internet and constant connectivity to the grid, the digitalization of life in general, the increased dependence on instant access to information, and a lack of purpose in life generally.

Gamers, as a demographic, tend to trend toward the introverted (although this has waned significantly in recent years), and introverts tend to have social anxieties and other issues that need dealing with in order to interact with others.  This isn’t me casting shade either; I’m an INTJ with significant social anxiety kept under disciplined control due to some serious training. I’m stating it from experience. Thankfully, in recent years, the implied shame of having mental health issues has started to be reduced in exchange for increased understanding, better coping methodology, and new ways of handling our lives with others.  While not a perfect solution, it is helping us to get out, handle uncomfortable social situations, and integrate better with society as a whole. MMORPGs are probably largely responsible for this, as we are able to socialize on our own terms, and ease into dealing with sometimes tense social situations, team building, and exercises in problem solving we can then take to in-person meetings.

As Generation Z starts to reach adulthood, they will have an easier time due to the research conducted as we overcame many of the issues that were brought about by the rapid growth of technology in our lives.  They’ll also benefit from our increased understanding of what is going on in our headspaces and how to handle social pressure and keep from being overwhelmed. As we move forward, remember the things you had to deal with, and provide your children, should you have them, the benefit of your experience.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to get help, for yourself or one of your children.  Modern psychology has developed in leaps and bounds since the 1980s, and as that understanding of how the human mind works becomes more robust, we have access to better methods of handling social anxiety, depression, ADHD, Autism spectrum disorders, and any number of other mental and neurological issues that gamers as a culture seem to suffer from on a disproportionate basis.  Take advantage of their knowledge and let’s all work together to remove the stigma that these things carried when we were children, much as we removed the stigma of being gamers.

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