Video Game Addiction and Depression

Video game related depression is a complex topic which invites a diverse range of opinions. With parents juggling the time management demands of distance learning and decreased schooltime, many families find their children with more time to spend on video games, whether on the smartphone or a game system. Conversations, debates, and arguments about video game usage are common among 21st-century families. Navigating this digital terrain can be tricky even in the easiest of times. With children at home all day using their digital devices for distance learning, managing video game use is a constant battle. As parents, we want to understand how video games can be useful, and when their overuse can become problematic. There has been a wealth of studies over the past 20 years examining video games and depression, anxiety and stress. There has never been a consensus on the long-term cognitive effects of video games.

The Developing Mind and Gaming Addiction

Preadolescence is a time of discovery and changes. Most preteens no longer view themselves as “children”, yet their emotional and cognitive maturity still need time to mature. Many have begun the complex physical and hormonal changes that signify puberty’s changes in brain structure.[1] How to reconcile video game usage with puberty can be tricky. 

Several recent studies on violent video games debunked an older myth about intense video games contributing to physical violence or violent impulses.[2][3] However, one study found a correlation in preadolescents who played very violent video games for over 2 hours every day with symptoms of depression.[4] The study’s authors called the effects significant. A study of middle school children in China also found that an addiction to mobile gaming correlates with greater feelings of loneliness and social anxiety.[5] 

It’s important for everyone to monitor their video game usage. In preadolescents, it’s paramount to ensure video game usage falls within healthy parameters and doesn’t degenerate into problematic gaming behavior.

Video Games and Addiction

The major danger of problematic gaming behavior (PGB) is the potential for addiction. Addiction to any habit, activity, or substance presents significant challenges and a risk of negative consequences for the addict. It’s no different with video games. A comprehensive study published in 2020 found that gaming addiction is associated with a number of health risks, primarily psychological, such as anxiety, stress and depression.[6] However, the survey found the levels that constitute PGB differ from individual to individual. This makes it hard to quantify problematic gaming into a set range. It’s also difficult to form a definitive conclusion because there is no direct causation link. Does problematic gaming lead to psychological issues or is PGB a symptom developed by individuals already suffering from depression and anxiety? The answer could be different from individual to individual. It’s important for parents to take an active role in their children’s lives and gaming behaviors to minimize any exacerbating effects.

Video Games and Therapeutic Strategies

Some studies indicate that playing casual games offer a valid form of relief from depression, reducing symptoms, and helping individuals cope with anxiety.[7] Another study concluded that moderate gaming led to healthier mental well-being and offered a positive form of relaxation and stress relief.[8] Moderate video game use can help in cases of treatment resistant depression symptoms.[9] Another study found that video games help develop advanced problem-solving skills and the ability to focus on a single stimulus while simultaneously working on multiple stimuli, a skillset that bodes well for fast-paced professional environments.[10]

One recent study compared video game treatments for anxiety with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This study found that specially designed games (in this case MindLight) were as effective as CBT at helping preadolescents internalize problems, but not as effective as CBT at reducing visible symptoms of anxiety.[11] Another study found the game Harvest Challenge helped individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) overcome attention problems.[12] 

What Do All These Studies Mean?

It might seem difficult to sort through all this information. Video game research is a flowering field that keeps on growing. Due to how ubiquitous video games have become, that growth is not likely to stop soon. Video games can trigger an array of cognitive processes and display a huge range of effects depending entirely on individual circumstances. Some children and adults may never experience negative effects from indulging in video games to relax or process stress. In other situations, a teenager may struggle to arouse any interest in schoolwork due to compulsive video game playing all night long. 

There is no easy and all-encompassing set of rules for video game management. The best thing parents and children can do is to become informed and self-aware of the benefits and dangers of digital gaming. For the majority of the 200 million Americans that play video games, it’s simply an enjoyable activity, like watching movies or playing sports. But for a small minority, gaming can become problematic when it interferes with school or work responsibilities. It’s important to remember that while problematic gaming behavior can exacerbate negative psychological conditions, not all gaming, or even most gaming, falls into the problematic category. It’s important to offer children, family members, and friends an empathetic support system so people do not feel isolated or feel their only source of support lies in video games.

If you or your children feel like you are suffering from depression, anxiety, stress or ADHD, neurofeedback can help you manage these conditions.

Benefits of Neurofeedback

If your children are suffering from anxiety, depression, ADHD, problematic gaming behavior or other psychological issues, neurofeedback can help you understand what’s happening on a cognitive level. Like a mechanic that opens the hood of the car to diagnose an issue, neurofeedback can reveal important information that can help develop a personalized treatment plan. 

For example, neurofeedback can leverage some of the positive aspects of games to help diagnose activities where children with ADHD lose their focus and where they can maintain their attention span. Games can help reveal the information necessary to retrain the brain towards more positive and beneficial patterns. Neurofeedback can also help us understand some aspects of PGB and offer insight into how to correct it by showing what is going on with our brain waves during problematic game play.

Your Free Consultation at NeuroZone

We offer complimentary consultations. Open communication is necessary for any beneficial therapeutic treatment. We can help you sort through your concerns and whatever issues you and your family might be experiencing, video game-related or otherwise.

If you’d like to learn more about neurofeedback and how it can help a variety of psychological conditions in childrens and adults, contact us today.We can help you discover how neurofeedback can benefit you and your family.


  1. Herting, M. M., & Sowell, E. R. (2017). Puberty and structural brain development in humans. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 44, 122–137.
  2. Valadez, J. J., & Ferguson, C. J. (2012). Just a game after all: Violent video game exposure and time spent playing effects on hostile feelings, depression, and visuospatial cognition. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(2), 608-616. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2011.11.006
  3. Ferguson, C. J., & Rueda, S. M. (2010). The Hitman Study. European Psychologist, 15(2), 99-108. doi:10.1027/1016-9040/a000010
  4. Tortolero, S. R., Peskin, M. F., Baumler, E. R., Cuccaro, P. M., Elliott, M. N., Davies, S. L., Lewis, T. H., Banspach, S. W., Kanouse, D. E., & Schuster, M. A. (2014). Daily violent video game playing and depression in preadolescent youth. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 17(9), 609–615.
  5. Wang, J. L., Sheng, J. R., & Wang, H. Z. (2019). The Association Between Mobile Game Addiction and Depression, Social Anxiety, and Loneliness. Frontiers in Public Health, 7, 247.
  6. Männikkö N, Ruotsalainen H, Miettunen J, Pontes HM, Kääriäinen M. (2020). Problematic gaming behaviour and health-related outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Health Psychology. 2020;25(1):67-81. doi:10.1177/1359105317740414
  7. Pine, R., Fleming, T., Mccallum, S., & Sutcliffe, K. (2020). The Effects of Casual Videogames on Anxiety, Depression, Stress, and Low Mood: A Systematic Review. Games for Health Journal, 9(4), 255-264. doi:10.1089/g4h.2019.0132
  8. Snodgrass, J.G., Lacy, M.G., Francois Dengah, H.J. et al. (2011). Magical Flight and Monstrous Stress: Technologies of Absorption and Mental Wellness in Azeroth. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 35, 26–62.
  9. Russoniello, C. V., Fish, M. T., & O’brien, K. (2019). The Efficacy of Playing Videogames Compared with Antidepressants in Reducing Treatment-Resistant Symptoms of Depression. Games for Health Journal, 8(5), 332-338. doi:10.1089/g4h.2019.0032
  10. Palaus, M., Marron, E. M., Viejo-Sobera, R., & Redolar-Ripoll, D. (2017). Neural Basis of Video Gaming: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00248
  11. Schoneveld, E.A., Wols, A., Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A. et al. (2020). Mental Health Outcomes of an Applied Game for Children with Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Randomized Controlled Non-inferiority Trial. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 29, 2169–2185 .
  12. Blandon, D. Z., Munoz, J. E., Lopez, D. S., & Gallo, O. H. (2016). Influence of a BCI neurofeedback videogame in children with ADHD. Quantifying the brain activity through an EEG signal processing dedicated toolbox. 2016 IEEE 11th Colombian Computing Conference (CCC). doi:10.1109/columbiancc.2016.7750788
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