This article talks about Post-game Depression, who is vulnerable to it, the biological experience of gaming depression, what are parasocial relationships, the various experiences a person faces till they accept the situation and how to overcome Post-game depression.
What is Post-game Depression?
Post-game Depression happens when one finishes a really good game and upon completion has depressive symptoms of sadness, emptiness, disorientation about purpose in life and difficulty in letting go. This usually happens when the person playing the game invested a lot of time and effort in the fictional world of a game.
A general feeling of sadness after a very enriching and engaging experience of playing is quite normal. But, when the symptoms of depression last for longer than a week or two, it is a cause of concern. This prolonged feeling of sadness and hopelessness is what differentiates a post-game depression from the sadness experienced after playing a really good game.
Who is vulnerable to Post-game Depression?
Gamers who spend long hours trying to finish a long game in a lesser time frame may be more vulnerable to post game depression than the others.
Gamers who professionally play games for a living may not be that vulnerable as they are quite used to playing games on a regular basis and have a practise of coming out of the illusory world of games and moving with reality or onto a different game. But a possibility of them being depressed after a gaming experience cannot be completely ruled out either.
How goes on in our brain while playing games?
Researches state that video games can alter the brains abilities with attention and visuospatial skills, largely making it more efficient.
The experience of gaming largely depends on a reward pathway. Conquering levels and collecting rewards in the game gives a boost in the dopamine levels in the brain that motivates and excites the player. Later, when the gamer thinks about the game, serotonin rushes in reinforcing that the game made the person happy causing the player to return back to it. Playing the game, once again causes dopamine release thus the entire process plays in a loop.
Excessive gaming can lead to dopamine exhaustion, emotional suppression, and lack of motivation, among other issues like weight gain and behavioural, social problems.
What is it about games that causes intense attachments?
Video games developed by skilled professionals have a great deal of attention to detail.
The virtual sets of the game, the learning curve that offers some challenge, the catchy music all offer an addictive aura to the gaming experience.
When the games are story-rich, the characters involved, the journey and growth of the characters, the plot twists at various levels are all factors that keep the gamers stay stuck to the game. A sense of relatability with the characters, the dialogues, the costumes, the weapons, the emotional triggers provided all have an impact on the gamers.
All of the above mentioned factors lead to the forming of a parasocial relationship with the characters of the game.
What are parasocial relationships?
Gamers, television viewers develop a bond with the characters or performers they see on-screen, and develop an attachment with them which is similar to a real relationship. This virtual, one-sided attachment was stated as a ‘parasocial relationship’, for the first time in 1956 by Horton and Wohl.
Researchers since then have studied a lot about the repercussions of parasocial relationships in the lives of the consumers of entertainment industry.
These parasocial relationships develop as the viewer spends time in understanding the character’s personality, behaviour and draws parallels with their own self. When the character or the game/show is taken abruptly off-air or ended for the purposes of the script, the viewer experiences a ‘parasocial relationship breakup’.
A research done in 2007-2008 during the writer’s strike in the United states demonstrated that people experienced distress when their favourite shows were unavailable to them. The college students, between ages 18-33 who participated in the study, were asked about their viewing habits, their favourite characters and the level of distress they experienced on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being low and 5 being high. They stated they had average levels of distressing symptoms, ranging from 2 to 2.5, when their favourite show ended or their favourite character ceased to exist in the show.
This study also stated that parasocial relationship breakups can be as intense as a real relationship breakup. Therefore, post game depression could also be as intense as depression as a result of ending of a relationship.
How are the 5 stages of grief applicable to Post-game Depression?
The 5 stage model of grief, proposed by Kubler and Ross, was mainly to do with bereavement in the case of loss of a loved one. But, this very model can be considered in the case of post-game depression too. How? Read on.
The initial shock of the game coming to and end can cause a sense of denial among players. Many weeks or months of being completed invested in the game followed by a sudden completion can cause a feeling of disbelief. The players may feel they have nothing else to think about or meaningful in life. The real thing is, they have a tough time accepting that the game is complete.
Some people may be angry that the huge amount of money they spent on purchasing the game was for a short-lived period of happiness.
This stage usually involves the players wishing they could go back in time just once more to relive the experience of playing the game.
When it really hits the player that the game is really over, depression might set in. The process of trying to detach from the game, the characters can be a quite difficult one for some people. The thoughts of letting go of the beauty of the illusory world and getting back to reality can be very demotivating for the gamer. The stage of depression, if severe, will require professional intervention.
The final stage of acceptance is, like the name suggests, where the person accepts that the experience of playing the game was a good one and now it has come to an end. People look out for new opportunities of gaming in this stage.
Ways to prevent Post-game Depression.
Limiting the hours spent in gaming
Having a limit to the time invested in the game can prevent addiction and sudden dopamine fluctuations. This might have to be a very consciously done task as many people tend to push their time limits in the attempt of finishing just one more level.
Have a schedule that includes gaming instead of a schedule around gaming
Try not to make gaming the center of your routine. Try not to build your life around the gaming experience, instead make it a part of your life because it brings you added joy- in addition to other things that bring joy into your life.
Alternate between high-intensity and low-intensity games.
Switching between high and low intensity games can be beneficial for people instead of being submerged in a series of high intensity games one after the other. This also ensures there is no slump of periods between dopamine generation and exhaustion.
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
Ways to overcome Post-game Depression.
Have a healthy social support system
Have a group of people- family, friends and other gamers that help you incase you find yourself experiencing Post game Depression. People close to you can also guide and warn you against gaming addiction and also encourage you to have a healthy life apart from gaming.
Understanding about the psychology and neurobiology behind what gaming offers and entails can be beneficial in making informed decisions.
For example, this blog itself can be a source of information for people who might be gaming frequently but do not know about the ill-effects of gaming for prolonged hours and the phenomenon of post game depression even though they might be experiencing the symptoms.
In severe cases of post game depression, medical and psychological help will be required in order to recover. Psychiatrists may prescribe medications like antidepressants and psychologists can offer cognitive-emotional and addiction-withdrawal therapies.
Counsellors can also offer different perspectives about ones need for attachments and probable reasons for developing unhealthy attachments. An understanding of attachment styles and patterns can help a person to figure out how they can maintain a distance in parasocial relationships.
Support groups involving other gamers who are in the same journey as you, where they share stories of their struggles with Post-game depression and how they recovered can be motivating for people dealing with it currently.
BetterHelp: A Better Alternative
Those who are seeking therapy online may also be interested in BetterHelp. BetterHelp offers plenty of formats of therapy, ranging from live chats, live audio sessions and live video sessions. In addition, unlimited messaging through texting, audio messages and even video messages are available here.
BetterHelp also offers couples therapy and therapy for teenagers in its platform. Furthermore, group sessions can also be found in this platform, covering more than twenty different topics related to mental health and mental illness. The pricing of BetterHelp is also pretty cost-effective, especially considering the fact that the platform offers financial aid to most users.
In this article we talked about Post-game Depression, who is vulnerable to it, the biological experience of gaming depression, what are parasocial relationships, the various experiences a person faces till they accept the situation and how to overcome Post-game depression.
What we recommend for Depression
If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling could be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.
Frequently asked questions: Post-game Depression.
Are all parasocial relationships unhealthy?
Actually, no. Often parasocial relationships can be a social system offering support, motivation and inspiration for many people. Watching a character and relating with their experiences can have powerful impact on the minds of people who are in depression or are having a tough time figuring out situations and relationships in life.
Is gaming good for mental health?
Studies do suggest that gaming can be good for mental health and video gaming need not be made to be the villain like how reports in earlier days made it seem to be. The time spent playing is a small but significant aspect of the connection between mental health and gaming, it need not be substantial. But, a player’s subjective experiences during play might be a bigger factor for wellbeing than mere play time. Withholding a person from gaming, could restrict the benefits that some people may gain from gaming.
How many hours do gamers play?
Top competitors and professional gamers are playing 12 to 14 hours a day, at least six days a week. Gamers in general spend 6 hours 20 minutes each week on an average.
Does the choice of game affect your brain differently?
Yes. Studies show that people playing “shooter games” damage the hippocampus area of their brain.
- Julie Lather & Emily Moyer-Guse (2011) How Do We React When Our Favorite Characters Are Taken Away? An Examination of a Temporary Parasocial Breakup. Mass Communication and Society, 14:2, 196-215
Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15205431003668603