There are over 3 billion gamers worldwide, and I have been one of them. However, the gaming world has changed drastically over the last 25 years, largely thanks to the internet becoming more accessible. Whether it’s mobile, console or desktop, gaming has one of the biggest user bases in the world, and a market size larger than movies and music combined! Official tournaments of the most popular games can register millions of viewers and professional esports teams can receive millions of dollars in sponsorships and prize funds for competing at the highest level. With the ever growing popularity of esports, recently, the International Olympics Committee announced Olympics Esports Week, June 22-25, 2023, creating a virtual series of physical sports for e-athletes to compete in.
What is esports?
Esports, also known as electronic sports, refers to competitive video gaming, often played at a professional level. Esports typically involves games where individuals or teams compete against each other in organized tournaments or leagues, with the goal of winning a prize or trophy. Esports can involve a wide range of games, including, real-time strategy games, racing games, sports simulations, first-person shooters, and many more. The popularity of esports has grown significantly in recent years, with many professional teams and players competing in major events around the world, and millions of fans tuning in to watch live broadcasts of the games.
There are now esports federations in nearly every country supporting and providing guidance to ensure gaming is for good and used to promote positive outcomes. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are heavily investing into gaming and creating numerous workforce and economic growth opportunities for the future, with the Middle East set to become a global leader in this exponentially growing market space.
The misconceptions and the benefits of gaming
Gaming has been a popular form of entertainment for decades, but there are still many misconceptions about its impact on wellbeing. Some people believe that gaming is a waste of time, that it promotes a sedentary lifestyle, and that it can lead to addiction and other negative outcomes. However, recent research has shown that gaming can actually have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing, especially when there is a focus on purpose and outcomes, and with time management involved. In this article, we will explore the ways in which gaming can benefit wellbeing, and provide some evidence-based insights into the positive effects of gaming.
There are challenges with managing game time when you are engaged in the gameplay. However, impact on wellbeing is about the quality and not the quantity of time spent playing games, here’s an extract from a recent study led by Oxford University:
‘We found it really does not matter how much gamers played [in terms of their sense of well-being]. It wasn’t the quantity of gaming, but the quality that counted…if they felt they had to play, they felt worse. If they played because they loved it, then the data did not suggest it affected their mental health. It seemed to give them a strong positive feeling.’ Professor Andrew K. Przybylski
Sense of achievement and purpose
One of the most significant benefits of gaming is its ability to provide a sense of achievement and purpose. Many games have specific goals and objectives that players need to achieve, which can give them a sense of accomplishment when they succeed. This feeling of achievement can help to boost self-esteem and confidence, and can be particularly valuable for people who may not have a particular specialism they excel in, or may be more comfortable in a virtual environment where they can fail without feeling there are consequences or judgement of their ability. Often gamers aren’t aware of the skills they are gaining when playing a particular game, or how they have increased their knowledge and skills over time to achieve meaningful outcomes. We discuss these later in the article.
research indicates that esports programs have the potential to positively impact the development of communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills (Rothwell and Shaffer, 2019), professional and academic skills, social and emotional learning (Reitman et al., 2020), social belonging and mental health (Tjønndal and Skauge, 2020).
Another way in which gaming can benefit wellbeing is through social connections. Many games can be played online with other players from around the world, which can help to build friendships and create a sense of community. For people who may struggle to make connections in their day to day lives, gaming can be a valuable way to feel connected and speak with likeminded people. However, this can also benefit anyone seeking to interact with players from different cultures, backgrounds, or with a similar taste in games. Gaming isn’t just for those that want to make online connections, sometimes you just want to compete with other players at a similar level or to challenge yourself. Friend connections are usually focused on quality over quantity, and it isn’t about number of friends or views, unless you’re a streamer or content creator. There are youth and adults who play because they are more comfortable in an online or virtual world, where they can avoid peer pressure or the need to fit in with a crowd.
The main concern around gaming is online is safeguarding, and whether the profiles are real, but this is improving as registrations to devices and user accounts become stricter, and in many games certain servers have restrictions if you want a safer area online to play. Many games and devices also have parental controls where certain functions can be enabled and disabled. When the correct procedures and protocols are followed the potential risks are minimised, which is another reason why supporting esports leagues through schools would provide a safe and positive outlet to interact locally and globally with online players.
Stress and anxiety
Furthermore, gaming can also help to reduce stress and anxiety. When playing a game, people often become absorbed in the experience and are able to take their minds off personal challenges they are facing outside of the online world. It can be an escape to interact with players who are there to enjoy the gaming experience with you. Of course, like in the ‘real-world’ you can also encounter challenges in the online world, but there are easy ways to remove these issues if they ever arise, and steps can be taken to report or block players. Additionally, if a casual gamer ever feels aggravated or stressed from failing in a game, they can try again multiple times, or they can turn it off and leave the online environment behind. Of course, this depends on whether the individual is able to ‘switch off’ mentally.
Additionally, there are games which are specifically designed to help reduce stress and promote relaxation, such as puzzle games or games that involve meditation and mindfulness practices, and points are gained based on completion of levels and activities. As these games come with a label to support personal growth, they aren’t often considered in the same bracket as other games, but the approach and concepts might be similar to certain traditional games. However, alongside gaming time, creating an awareness and including time for mindfulness, fitness, and healthy eating practices will increase positive wellbeing outcomes.
Research and further reading
Playing video games, may boost children’s learning, health and social skills, according to a review of research on the positive effects of video game play to be published by the American Psychological Association
While there are specific actions and protocols required to ensure gaming is beneficial, there are many scholarly articles and research studies that support the evidence for gaming and wellbeing. Playing video games, may boost children’s learning, health and social skills, according to a review of research on the positive effects of video game play to be published by the American Psychological Association One study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that playing games that involve social connections, such as cooperative or competitive multiplayer games, was associated with increased feelings of social competence and positive affect. Another study published in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that playing games that involve problem-solving and strategy, such as puzzle or strategy games, was associated with increased cognitive flexibility and creativity.
Earlier, I discussed that I would list further benefits of esports, or competitive video gaming, and how they can provide several benefits for children's or adults wellbeing and skills development, including:
1. Cognitive Development: Esports can improve cognitive functions such as decision-making, strategic thinking, and reaction time. For example, playing strategy-based games requires players to think quickly and make decisions that can impact the outcome of the game. Being aware of these skills and tracking when they are being utilised will support in transferring them to academics or the workplace.
2. Social Connection: Participating in esports, being part of a team, can provide children and adults with a sense of community and social connection, as they would when playing in other traditional sports. For students and school staff, playing with others in their school or online can help develop communication skills and create opportunities for teamwork and collaboration, and foster positive relationships which otherwise may not be established. For educators, games like “Roblox” and "Minecraft" can be safe to utilise and encourage players to work together to accomplish tasks to achieve shared goals. These game titles also contain education content and resources linked to STEM subjects. Many games also have parental controls which can be activated to promote safe play.
3. Physical Health: Esports can also promote physical activity and healthy habits. There are games that involve physical movements like "Just Dance", which is part of the Olympics Esports Week list of games. There are purpose-built gaming accessories can help children develop their coordination and motor skills. For SIM racing, there are programs which focus on the mental and physical training as well as the gameplay. There are also games where developers and publishers have incorporated leader boards and points systems for exercise and staying physically active. Professional esports players, often referred as e-athletes, have regimes that consist of gym training, diet & nutrition, healthy sleep and recovery habits, etc. This can be adapted to a weekly schedule for the average gamer.
4. Mental Health: Engaging in esports can provide children and adults with a sense of accomplishment, which can boost their self-esteem and confidence. It can also serve as a healthy coping mechanism for stress and anxiety. For example, playing relaxing games without a competitive element can help children and adults unwind and destress. However, by adding in goals and achievement targets, whether in gameplay or personalised for the child can add extra sense of achievement, and if they fail, they can learn and try again without it creating a negative experience.
5. Career Opportunities: Esports can offer career opportunities in various fields, including gaming, broadcasting, production, event management, and content creation, etc. The industry also includes many of the traditional roles related to legal, business, coaching, etc. For example, children who are passionate about gaming can pursue a career which isn’t just focused on becoming a professional gamer or streamer.
Overall, gaming can actually benefit wellbeing in many ways, including improving mental health, enhancing cognitive skills, promoting social connection, providing a sense of achievement, encouraging physical activity, and fostering creativity. However, it's important to balance gaming with other activities and ensure that it's being used in a healthy and responsible way.
If you’re unsure of where to find further information, you can reach out to me, and there are many excellent guides available online. There are even resources and case studies available specifically linked to education. The British Esports Federation is an example of a successful org with great content and information.
Author: Baz Nijjar, Principal Advisor - Educational Techology
Baz is currently Principal Advisor – Education Technology for GEMS Education. Baz is recognised for his innovative approach to creating links between educational and industry needs, and has successfully embedded pioneering whole-school solutions. Baz successfully launched the first GEMS Centre of Excellence at FPS and the ground-breaking partnership with global top 100 organisations under the KHDA Rahhal 10X programme, making it the lead school in this region for industry links integrated within education. Baz launched the first esports and game design qualifications in the region, as well as a dedicated space within a school with leading technology to support student provision and the development of industry level skills. His research interests include award-winning blended learning models, innovation in enhancing education related outcomes, industry and education collaborations – which includes first in the UAE for industry qualifications and internship programs. Baz has a keen interest in establishing key industry partnerships to create a positive impact to as many students as possible. Baz believes that education should always look to integrate real-world, current and future industry needs to better prepare our children for the future.