Recent data shows that there are an estimated 150 million to 231 million active gamers in the United States. With a prevalence of gaming disorder somewhere between 1.96% and 3%, up to 6.5 million Americans are unable to put their controllers down at will. Of course, consequences span beyond time consumption. Additional signs and symptoms of gaming addiction include social and familial dysfunction, loss of productivity at work/school, physical impediments (obesity, etc.), co-occurring anxiety and depression, and a lack of interest for anything else in life. It’s the latter we’re going to explore today, which along with counseling can help assist with the other negative consequences of gaming addiction.
As America’s leader in mental/behavioral health support services for disorders that other providers shy away from, we have successfully covered topics such as Healthy Alternatives to Gambling. The resource applies to some of you, but given that the video game playing population spans a wider age group, we felt that it deserves its own focus. So what are effective and healthy gaming alternatives that can help you break the grip that the activity has on your life? Let’s find out!
3 Healthy Alternatives to Video Gaming That Actually Work
1. Physical Recreation That Mirrors the Virtual Version
The brain’s “feel good” chemical called dopamine is released while playing video games. It’s why gamers experience elevated emotions when in “the zone” of game play. A gamer develops a strong drive to seek out that same pleasure again and again. Over time, the feeling becomes diluted and a compromised individual must play more frequently and/or for extended periods of time to maintain the same level of dopamine release. This is where gaming becomes problematic to mental and behavioral health.
Understanding this, it’s important to look at healthy gaming alternatives that are also known to produce dopamine. Physical recreation is one of the most effective ways to make this happen:
“With respect to translating this research to clinical practice, it is appropriate to suggest that health professionals should encourage engagement in physical activity (PA) as a strategy to improve dopamine levels and possibly promote mental health. Furthermore, these findings reinforce the chain of thought suggesting that PA should be considered as an intervention strategy for improving mental health.”National Library of Medicine
While any form of healthy physical activity can help, research shows that outdoor recreation is a great supplement that can raise levels of dopamine and endorphins (also released during game play).
For greater effectiveness in capturing interest, consider physical activities that mirror the same games that you (or your gaming children) are deeply engaged in. Let’s look to some of the most popular eSports games of 2024 for reference. Those who habitually play FIFA (ranked 3rd in popularity) should join a soccer league in their community. Problematic Counter Strike and Call of Duty (ranked 4th and 6th, respectively) players could join a paint ball league, while Street Fighter (ranked 7th) addicts might consider taking Brazilian jiu-jitsu or another martial art. The hand-eye coordination that you’ve developed as a gamer may even serve you well in these real world environments.
2. Create Art
As someone immersed in video game play, you have surely developed an appreciation for art. Every interface and virtual world is the brainchild of an artist who took their talents to gaming development companies at some point in time. This could be the ideal alternative to gaming for you.
From a pure aesthetic perspective, the experiential pleasure of art is linked to increased levels of dopamine, GABA and various neuropeptides. Being the one to create art – be it through painting, sketching, sculpting, or photography – is also linked to dopamine release. New research has also shown that creating art can lower stress and anxiety (which co-occur with gaming disorder) which is why the field of art therapy is emerging as a form of mental health treatment across America.
Channeling your inner artist is a great way to refocus your brain’s interests in a healthy manner. And you never know – you may even be able to sell your work, which leads us to another healthy gaming alternative opportunity below.
3. Start an Online Business
Aside from the prospect of financial reward, there are two reasons that starting an online business could be a great gaming alternative. For one, compulsive gamers have some of the same personality traits as successful entrepreneurs, including the following:
- High levels of commitment
- Motivated by extrinsic rewards
- Expectations of winning
These traits will serve you well in an endeavor to start and manage an online business. In addition, your experience in online environments gives you a head start over many others when it comes to online business creation. Many modern video games allow players to plan their inputs to a specific process to get better outputs, which is a perfect stepping stone to coding/programming which are skills that can directly help you start and manage a website (online sales platform, etc.). Further, the selective attention skills that you have developed as a gamer also foster a cognitive environment required to run a successful digital-based business.
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