One of the earliest memories I have is playing the original Legend of Zelda, a game which, while tame by today’s standards, features a level of violence. From that day, I was hooked, not just on violent games, but all of them. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realise that certain games – most of which involve some kind of combat – are my go-to for stress relief.
I’m pretty aware that this makes me sound a little crazy. How could the act of digitally blowing someone’s brains out be cathartic in any way? Considering the greater discussion around video game violence, which is generally negative, I’ve also been wary of voicing my weird stress relief ritual of shotguns and sniper rifles, so instead, I spoke to a professional.
Dr Luke Vu is a psychologist on the Lysn platform who specialises in internet and gaming addiction, among other things. Luckily, he says I’m not alone.
“Many gamers prefer violent games and no, it’s not because they’re crazy,” Dr Vu told Pedestrian.tv via email. “I think violent games offer a level of excitement and competitiveness that is a little unique to the genre.”
While that’s certainly true, particularly when you look at the popularity of the battle royale genre and competitive shooters like Counter-Strike, he also points out that there’s more to it than simply besting someone online.
“The level of engagement, focus and concentration to play a high-paced action game or immersive action game often makes it hard to think about other things, such as your difficult day in the office,” he said. “That is probably where the stress relief effect comes from. For other gamers, I think violent games allow some to act out aggressive fantasies and express anger in a more socially acceptable way.”
In other words, aggressive actions in video games and why they feel good comes down to two things. The level of concentration required can take your mind off other things, and the actions can also act as a bit of a digital punching bag.
In the greater context of gaming and mental health, Dr Vu says taking part in the activity can be stellar for our wellbeing.
“Regularly engaging in an activity that brings pleasure, a sense of mastery, social connection and a sense of flow is going to be really important in healthy self-care habits,” he said. “In the context of mental health, activities that have these properties can help us manage stress, increase our sense of belonging and improve our mood.”
But like any hobby, this isn’t a permission slip to give up every other aspect of your life and become a full-blown couch potato. You still gotta live a normal life, mate.
“Balance is key here, you can’t simply game without regard for the things you have to do in a given day,” Dr Vu said. “It sounds simple, but making sure you get the basics right (eat, work, study, relationships, exercise, sleep etc), then being deliberate about how much you game is the best approach.”
Disclosure: Kotaku Australia and Pedestrian.tv are both part of Pedestrian Group, which is wholly owned by Nine Entertainment.