Dr Subi Chaturvedi, Phd, IITD

Dr Subi Chaturvedi is a distinguished strategic advisory, corporate affairs professional with over two decades of industry experience across areas such as digital economy, entrepreneurship, startups, deepening democracy, sustainability & diversity working with governments, international organizations and multilateral institutions in leadership roles. She has served as the Global Co-Chair of the Netmundial Initiative, Member of the UN Internet Governance Forum (MAG), appointed by the UNSG, as well on the Boards of UK India Business Council (UKIBC), & IGFSA. She has assisted bilateral negotiations between sovereign nations culminating in MoUs in the areas of ICT, financial, digital and health services worth over $100 mn.

 

This year the World Mental Health Day holds more significance than any other year because of the sheer volume of people dealing with mental health problems. The pandemic caused chaos, confusion, stress and isolation for billions of people. KFF reports that globally, 41% of adults have reported symptoms of stress or anxiety, up 30% from June 2019. Thus, with the theme, “Make mental health care for all a reality”, World Mental Health Day 2021 is an opportunity to discuss the problems, challenges and possible solutions that affect us all. 

In recent years, the importance of mental health in development has been thoroughly acknowledged, as demonstrated by the inclusion of mental health in Sustainable Development Goals. While there has been a global movement towards recognition of mental health problems and an honest attempt to find solutions, mental health is still not openly talked about. The stigma associated with mental health problems and seeking professional help has meant that a lot of people who need the help don’t get it. The gap between people needing help or care and those with access to care remains substantial. For the percentage of people who receive effective treatment coverage, the gap is even bigger. 

The overall objective of the day is to raise awareness of mental health problems and mobilize efforts in support of mental health. In the 21st century, all of us experience a rapidly evolving, fast-paced life, exerting constant stress on the human mind. What becomes vital for people is to have newer and numerous avenues of relieving stress and anxieties at a daily level to lead a longer, more balanced life. While audio-visual entertainment, physical sport and reading books have been preferred choices for stress relief in the past, one activity has stood out during the pandemic – online gaming.

Online gaming saw the maximum growth in the Media and Entertainment segment in India during the pandemic. The lack of social interaction and competitiveness of physical sport have led people to online gaming, which has become the leading source of interactive entertainment for Indians in the last two years. Gaming companies like Zupee have seen 100x growth in the number of gamers and the numbers continue to grow. Indians downloaded mobile games more than 7 billion times in the first 9 months of 2020, accounting for 17% of the global share. This is a testament to the need for interactive entertainment, especially in the post-pandemic era. 

Online gaming can play a vital role as an easily accessible avenue of expression, distraction, and relief from the anxieties and stress of daily life. A well-chosen game can be engaging, empowering and entertaining for the users. Skill-based online gaming provides a unique avenue for entertainment as it is not limited to sedentary consumption of planned media content. It is an action-oriented, interactive entertainment, which is highly dependent on user’s active participation. Furthermore, it promotes virtual networking and community building, which is beneficial as an alternative interactive platform, especially in the COVID-affected world. 

Community building

The biggest advantage of online gaming is that unlike old-school videogames, players are not disconnected from the world. They don’t play in isolation. Most skill-based online games provide a thriving community that connects like-minded people together and promotes social interaction in the gaming world. This not only negates compiling of depressive stimuli and thoughts but also creates avenues of expression and exchanges. Such games provide a connection and common goal sharing, which are critical for mental health. The forming of connections with gamers from other parts of the world makes communication easy and liberating. 

Interactive, mental stimulation, mood regulation 

Online gaming thrives on user interaction, and therefore, participants are just not consuming information. They are acting on it, solving problems, creating ways, and countering challenges. This stimulates the brain and forces the participants to make decisions. It provides positive reinforcements with rewards, points, etc., encouraging the gamers to play harder, learn more and achieve higher goals.  This contributes in reducing stress and strengthening emotional regulation, making people better at managing difficult emotions and situations. It not only takes the mind off from the daily disappointments and stress but can also be used to build positive experiences that are important for mental wellbeing. 

Handling achievements and failures 

While endowing users with the feeling of being accomplished, online gaming boosts confidence and self-esteem. It reduces apprehensions of negative evaluation and judgemental decisions, focussing rather, on participation and teamwork. It also helps people manage failures in life and develops the attitude of trying and not giving up easily. 

Improves learning and soft skills

Skill-based online gaming is a great way to impart learning, improve soft skills, and affirm positive behavioral change, which benefits gamers beyond the gaming world. The games help in developing strategic thinking, problem-solving, social perceptiveness, and creativity.  Furthermore, gamers also develop collaboration, and coordination, and communication skillsets. The multiplayer-team games boost team playing attitude in addition to developing other skills. While all online games promote some kind of learning, gamified programs and training modules are highly effective in achieving dedicated learning. All these soft skills passively and silently drive change within individuals which is reflected in their performance in the real world. 

While dedicated therapeutic games can be programmed to benefit mental health, research has suggested that commercial games have proven to be effective as well at furthering psychological wellbeing in people. There are currently 500 million gamers in India and the sector is expected to have more than 650 million users by 2025. It is important for parents, teachers and even adults to recognize the impact online gaming can bring to their lives to the lives of those around them. Instead of looking at games as a waste of time, we should be considering them as tools for cognitive development and mental wellbeing.

There has been a recent call for a central framework and enabling policies with light touch regulation to enhance and protect the gaming sector and ensure that this growth is not hampered due to false perceptions and misunderstandings. A robust regulatory framework where tech-led gaming can thrive and be cultivated to aid social impact sectors like mental health, skilling, life-skills will define the future of the emerging sector, making it one of the important partners of economic growth and prosperity as India charts its course towards the five trillion-dollar economy with a healthy and thriving young population which is not just physically fit but also mentally agile and well adjusted.

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