In the modern world, games are everywhere: video games, card games, mind games, team games and even puzzles are in endless supply. If you type ‘free games’ into Google, a cacophony of websites will be returned, each offering hours of mindless gaming options – they’re the bane of every procrastinator’s work day.
Puzzles. Simple, challenging, effective little games that have been around for centuries. Despite their retro nature and simple premise, puzzles continue to appeal to us even today. Remember when, a few years ago, everyone was trying out Sudoku? As humans, we just don’t seem to get bored of puzzles.
Marcel Danesi, PhD., theorizes that puzzles appeal to us precisely because of their simple nature  - like a lot of games, puzzles offer us the chance to find solutions to problems which provides universal satisfaction. It’s a form of escapism and thus a way to step back from the stress that lingers in our minds.
According to a study by the University of Toronto, puzzles can provide the perfect, short, mentally active break from stress that helps us to keep functioning. The attention needed to complete a puzzle is the perfect amount to shoo away daily troubles, at least for a short while, giving your exhausted brain a break.
Not only does Neurobic recommend organizing regular game nights with friends and family, but they also encourage playing puzzle games to keep stress levels low . It’s thought that these games engage the mind and improve brain function, whilst simultaneously offering easy and satisfying stress relief.
Those Pesky Violent Video Games
Console video games divide opinion all over:are they too violent? Studies and debates rage on. From those studies, scientists have discovered some interesting results regarding the correlation between stress and video games, particularly violent ones.
Video games have consistently proven to boost mood and decrease feelings of stress and frustration. However, one study found that participants who enjoyed violent video games had more hostile attitudes in their day-to-day lives.
Another study suggested that those who indulged in violent video games as a regular hobby showed an increased ability to deal with day-to-day stress competently and effectively. According to Dr. Ferguson, TAMIU associate, using violent video games as a mood management tool can keep stress levels low in regular life, and do not contribute to any increased aggression and hostility.
A University of London study found a clear correlation between hours spent playing video games (usually action/first person shooters) at home and recovery from work-related stress levels. The scientists involved did note that this may be due to personal preference – but the correlation was still there.
So it looks like, if you enjoy console games, whatever the genre, you have a go-to tool to help alleviate everyday stress, without any fear that you may suddenly develop hostile tendencies.
Where puzzle games are the classic simple escape from stress, online clickable games are the new, updated equivalent. With more resources available, online mini-games can reduce stress in more ways than just puzzle-solving. Take Casanova, an online game that uses adorable visuals and happy-sounding music designed to make the player smile, which automatically makes us feel less stressed. I challenge anyone to open the game without cracking a grin.
A more complex example is Echogenesis, which uses a combination of calming, natural visuals and music composition to induce relaxation in the player. The act of creating music with little to no skill involved is already a stress-relief technique practiced in music therapy, and using visual stimuli to create a relaxing effect on the mind is common in mindfulness practice.
Try them yourself – many office workers and students have found taking a five-minute break from work to engage with free online games designed to boost mood and relieve stress have brightened their day in seconds.
Beating Stress as a Team
We humans are social creatures. We’re not built to be solitary; we’re naturally wired to feel happier when we’re in a group. Researchers have found that happiness levels increase significantly when you have at least one close friend to confide in. Studies have even shown that those with a large group of close friends outlive those who have fewer, so clearly, getting together with friends is beneficial to health and happiness. Playing games with friends is a great way to get in your doctor-recommended friend-time as well as indulging in the escapism of concentrating on fun once in a while.
Researchers found that employees who felt lonely and stressed underperformed when compared with those who were happy with their social lives; so those office-planned de-stressing games may well be doing everybody a favor in regard to performance and stress.
The best way to form enjoyable bonds through games, thus increasing sociability and happiness levels, is through simple games that require low levels of skill; eliminating any potential for frustration or embarrassment. Easy-going games like charades and Pictionary encourage team-building and laughter – which is proven to reduce stress levels.
Let’s Get Physical
It’s been well-known for a while now that physical exercise makes you feel good both in the long term and the short term. The immediate release of endorphins that exercise triggers make you feel good once you get your heart rate up and the physical benefits of keeping your body in shape and healthy makes for higher self-esteem and fewer worries.
Luckily for us, games that get us moving have existed for years. Engaging in sports combines a lot of stress-beating factors – getting exercise, striving for a goal, escaping from everyday worries and socializing with teammates.
With modern technology, it’s easier and more fun than ever before to engage in sports. Since the release of the Nintendo Wii, people can play a relaxing game of tennis without ever having to leave the comfort of their own living room, if that’s what they’d prefer.
Combining the benefits of exercise with the stress-beating power of games means double the chill-out bonus.Who wouldn’t want that?
As you can see games can be powerful for relieving stress and aren't just for children. Do you have any stress relief games you would like to share? Comment below!