Taming gaming: What the experts say

There are loads of benefits to video games. They can be a good way to develop hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes. They can help you develop social interactions and build confidence outside your usual social groups. You can use games to build friendships and games can also offer you space to escape and decompress from the pressures of daily life.

So far, so good, right?

However, there are some dangers associated with gaming, beyond the issue of whether you’re playing too much or playing the right kind of games for you. Compulsive gaming, overspending, violence and bullying are all issues people can encounter when they spend time gaming.

We asked Andy Robertson, gaming advisor at National Online Safety and author of Taming Gaming for some advice on how you can get the most benefit and value from the time, effort and money you spend on gaming.

Maybe you play video games just now and again, or maybe you play them a lot; either way, you’ll probably play video games in some way or another your entire life.

It’s important to talk to someone you trust if you feel that gaming is not working for you. Along with the advice below, you can establish healthy boundaries in each of these areas which can be automatically applied by your console if you find that useful.

Compulsive Gaming

Because games are a relatively new media, the science behind compulsive video game playing is in its infancy. Only a very small number of people will have a problem with video games that needs the input of a medical professional. Rather than focussing on how long you spend gaming, think more about whether gaming is having an impact on the rest of your life.

If games are causing you to not eat properly, not to get to school or college, or to opt out of family life, you should consider whether things are out of balance. A good step is to have a variety of activities in your life, as well as a variety of different video games to play.

Overspending

Most video games are products designed to make money. To get good value from them we need to make informed choices about the games and game items we buy.

Look back at your spending pattern in bank balances or online game stores. Are you still using the games and items you purchased and do they still seem like good value today? This can inform your future purchasing choices.

Look closely at items you buy “blind” and then discover their rarity after purchase. These “loot boxes” can encourage repeat spending to get the item you want. If that’s the case, was it still good value for you?

Violence

It’s still up for scientific debate whether playing a violent video game makes someone more violent in real life. But either way, it’s important to understand how violent media makes us feel. If you’re frustrated after playing or find yourself getting angry when you lose, take time out to process those emotions.

If you think you are sensitive to violence, maybe avoid violent games altogether. Some of the best and most popular games are rated with minor or no violence. The PEGI app lets you look up the PEGI age ratings for every game.

Bullying

One of the best aspects of video games is that you can play with other people. However, groups don’t always act in the best interest of everyone involved. It’s possible to encounter hurtful language, prejudice, bullying, swearing, and other things that can be upsetting.

If you are in a situation you feel uncomfortable with, it’s important to talk to someone you trust about this. They will be able to offer you support. The majority of games have a reporting mechanism for misconduct so you don’t have to put up with any level of abuse or inappropriate contact.

Finally

Be ambitious and adventurous in the games you play. Have a varied diet of different games. Talk to your friends and family about it so they can appreciate and understand your passion for gaming. Maybe even move your gaming into shared family spaces so they can see you play and maybe join in the action.

As Chris O’Shea, a video game developer, says, “Find game genres that family and friends would like to play. This can be a great way to bond over a shared experience and to have a more open conversation around screen time.”

Where to find support

If you have been affected by anything in this article, visit Childline for more information about staying safe when online gaming.

It is always good to speak to someone you trust about the issues you might be facing, no matter how big or small. Although it can be hard talking about mental health and physical health issues, remember this is something that affects us all. If you are experiencing difficulties, don’t feel ashamed or different, and don’t feel you have to hide away from it. Speaking to your GP or health professional can put you in contact with the right people who can help, and the support can be life changing.

You can also get support around mental health from Mind and the NHS

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