Research Topic

Digital Games and Mental Health

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Over the last decade, there has been a growing interest in the relationship between mental health and digital games. This discussion has recently returned to the forefront of public discourse with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision to classify Gaming Disorder (GD) in their new diagnostic manual. ...

Over the last decade, there has been a growing interest in the relationship between mental health and digital games. This discussion has recently returned to the forefront of public discourse with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision to classify Gaming Disorder (GD) in their new diagnostic manual. While concerns about digital games and mental health often revolve around their potential to exacerbate pre-existing symptomatology (e.g., depression or anxiety), the addition of the GD has raised new concerns that games themselves may be detrimental to one’s mental well-being, as well as contrasting criticisms that the WHO’s decision may or may not be well-grounded in data. Alongside these discussions a new line of research examining how video games can be valuable tools for self-exploration and positively influence mental well-being has also emerged. Through in-game narratives and in-game mechanics, video games are beginning to be recognized as potential tools for fostering psychological growth. These potentials are worthy of examination, in terms of unintentional learning (e.g., fostering psychological growth within games not explicitly designed to do so) as well as intentional game design (e.g., the development
of games for mental health; deep games).

That is, interest in the links between mental health and digital games are not limited to player effects but also industrial design. Over the last few years, there has been a growing concern about the ways in which mental illness is portrayed in digital game content and how that can impact society’s perception of mental health. Much like the discussions about the inappropriateness of sexualized game content, there is a heightened concern that stereotyped portrayals of mental illness contribute to the stigmatization narrative of mental health challenges within society. In a similar vein, there is now a growing community of developers creating games to specifically reflect mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (so-called, “deep games”). Little is known about how the design of these kinds of serious games impacts the developers who create them or the players who engage with them. More research is needed to understand how “deep games,” which are created as spaces of symbolic conflict, liberation, and transformation, impact mental health.

This Research Topic will examine the intersection between mental health and digital games within gaming communities and the gaming industry. Discussions within this article collection will include theoretical and applied analyses, auto-ethnographies, and case studies. This may include, but is not limited to, discussions of:
• Internet gaming disorder/gaming disorder (antecedents, consequences, and current state of the research)
• Promotion of mental well-being via digital gameplay
• Impact of digital gameplay on pre-existing symptomatology (e.g., depression, anxiety)
• Digital gameplay and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
• Digital games and well-being among adolescents
• Digital games and well-being among the elderly
• Mental health within participatory gaming cultures (streaming)
• Dark participation within games
• Toxic gaming cultures
• Therapeutic use of games
• Influence of gaming communities
• Role of gaming identities
• The portrayal of mental illness in games
• Cultivation of behavior and attitudes via digital games
• Uses and gratifications approach to understanding mental health and digital gameplay
• Special considerations for virtual reality games
• Influence of mobile gaming: anytime, anyplace, anywhere
• Designing games for mental health
• Serious games and well-being
• Critical reflection of intentional game design
• Impact of “deep game” design on developers mental health
• Impact of “deep game” players’ mental health


Keywords: human-media interaction, positive psychology interventions, cyberpsychology, mental health, digital games


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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