In August this year the Department of Health published a report on the mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents (parents of 4-17 year olds and young people aged 11-17). Putting aside the significant limitation that the 18-25 age group was not included, it provides a good snapshot of young people’s health. Depressingly not a lot has changed in terms of the rates of mental health problems and disorders which have remained about the same.
Within the highlights section a summary reports on ‘behaviours that could put them at risk’. Interestingly, internet use and electronic gaming was reported alongside bullying, problem eating, and substance use, implying that this activity is inherently problematic. In fact, only 4% of 11 to 17 year olds have highly problematic internet use or electronic gaming (compared with 34% who had been bullied and 18% who had drunk alcohol).
I’ve enjoyed gaming in the past, without transforming into regular or ongoing use (perhaps because it lost the battle with the well-established love of reading books for preferred leisure time activity). That said, my family was certainly an early adopter of technology and gaming. Indeed my brother ended up becoming games programmer. My dad was an engineer and inherently interested in computers and we soon had an Apple II. We were soon playing those wonderful early games like Castle Wolfenstein and Dino Eggs – and even before this we played the simple but oddly enjoyable pong (yes, I am officially old!).
On the weekend I unpacked my Wii and discovered that the last time I’d played was in 2010! I’ve spent a few hours over the last couple of days playing Super Mario Galaxy. I was curious to know if I would enjoy it as much as I did previously, or whether there was something inherently ‘youth’ about it that would mean it wouldn’t engage me like it once did. This wasn’t the case and I found myself totally absorbed and enjoying it. What did surprise me was that I experienced a flow state that was analogous to that I experience while horse-riding. The sense of being totally absorbed in the task, learning skills and a sense of mastery was wonderful.
There have been many alarmist reports about the negative effects of gaming (addiction, violence). In fact, there is also good evidence to suggest that there are many creative, social and emotional benefits from playing video games. And it’s great to see that there is a more complex and mature discussion about video games emerging, for example Play Write. The next challenge is to enable health practitioners (including GPs) to be able to discuss video game use with young people in order to identify and understand use that does and does not facilitate health and wellbeing.