Punches fly across an LED screen, then a beast falls with blood oozing from its wounds as the opponent extinguishes the monster and continues on his quest to find riches — all while the gamer sits facing a screen with frustration. But while such a scene is typical of a video game, researchers say video games offer players methods to cope with stress and anxiety.
Melinda Ciccocioppo, a psychology lecturer at Pitt, said students cope with stress in two major ways when prepping for final exams — through problem-focused coping and through emotion-focused coping strategies.
“Problem-focused coping strategies involve creating and implementing a plan to eliminate the stressor. Emotion-focused coping strategies involve attempting to manage the negative emotions associated with the stressor,” Ciccocioppo said.
Ciccocioppo said games, including video games and board games, fall under the emotion-focused category, as they can relieve stress by distracting the player from the stress-inducing event. As a result, playing these games gives the brain a break, which not only permits the processing of past information but also a gives better retention of the next series of tasks.
James Ravenscroft, a first-year math major, plays chess to relieve stress associated with school and said the game is an intellectual distraction from academics. He said although chess requires the use of problem-solving capabilities, it is nonetheless effective at alleviating academic stress.
“I don’t have to think about the school work when I’m playing chess. It’s a whole nother world when you’re playing because it takes you completely away from school,” Ravenscroft said. “You have to leave school at the door, and with doing that, I think that chess offers a novel ability as a distraction and also an entertainment for when things get stressful.”
Ravenscroft said he plays other games such as “Magic: The Gathering” and “Dungeons & Dragons,” which he tends to find helpful in relieving stress. These games require other individuals, as both games are multiplayer, which helps increase social interactions with other people, something he said further relieves stress.
Ciccocioppo said board games are an excellent option for mitigating stress, but there are other options for people who don’t like them.
“If you’ve done all that you can to prepare for an exam, it’s OK and even good to let yourself do something fun to take your mind off of the anxiety that you’re experiencing,” Ciccocioppo said. “Playing board games or puzzles are one option. Exercise and getting outside are other great options, both because they can distract you from the stressor, but also because they have been shown to have stress-reducing effects themselves.”
But many students stick to video games for their stress relief. Ferdy Huang, a junior majoring in emergency medicine, said video games offer an opportunity for entertainment while also reducing stress and anxiety due to exams. Huang said games are an escape from the constraints of reality to a new and foreign world.
“Playing games is like an escape. It takes away from the work. It’s like a way to jump into a whole nother world and experience things that you cannot do in real life,” Huang said.
He added that video games are part of his identity and playing a game allows him to express himself.
“Video games are a part of me, and being able to play them, it takes away the pressure from work,” Huang said. “The stress management, that’s the side effect that comes from having fun playing video games.”