Body worlds blog

A Game a day keeps the stress away

22 August 2019.


Following what must have been an undoubtedly intense school day, my daughter had promised me she’d tidy her room, do her homework, and countless other tasks she had not been able to ‘address’ due to a game on her phone.

As a proud father of daughters in the 13-15 age group, I often get annoyed when I catch one of my girls playing games on their smartphones, endlessly. After having given her a lecture about smartphone use and keeping promises, I feel like a complete killjoy.

 Following my sermon, she usually throws me a pitying look, informs me that she ‘has to complete the level’ and retorts ‘can you give me some room to relax, please?!’, before she can even consider lifting a limb. When I attempt to display my digital expertise by saying that she can also simply press the pause button, I can see she feels sorry for me and my complete lack of knowledge of modern technology. I can handle that.

 I hear myself repeating the same mantra again and again, every time beds haven’t been made, or my suggested timeframe for a task has been completely ignored, all because one of my darling children has their head down, completely transfixed by some game on their tiny screen.

But is my response normal in 2019? Surely it cannot be healthy for my child to immerse herself in a digital game and lose all awareness of time, space and everything around them? How could that be relaxing? Then again, didn't I completely lose myself in an exciting book at that age? Is that not the mindful alternative?

 The answer to that question might be part of the conclusion of an article that was recently published in JMIR Mental Health: 'Digital games may beat mindfulness apps at relieving stress, new study shows'. A new study conducted at University College London and The University of Bath attempts to answer the question of whether a better cure of stress after a long, busy day at work is actually playing a game on your phone opposed to using a mindfulness app. According to the authors, playing a game is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress after a hard day in the office.

 Participants who played a shape-fitting game (links below) on their phones reported feeling more energised and less tired afterwards, while those trying to reach the same result with a mindfulness app reported the opposite: their level of "energetic arousal" appeared to decline. In a second part of the study, participants who played a shape-fitting game after arriving home from work for five days reported feeling more relaxed by the end of the week than those who were asked to use the mindfulness app or the toy. “Far from feeling guilty about being absorbed by their phone, people who play such games after a stressful day at work should know they are likely to be gaining a real benefit,” said study co-author Professor Anna Cox from UCL Interaction Centre.

 Maybe not a very scientific approach, but if I take this study and apply its findings to my own home and phone-obsessed offspring, then at least I can take comfort in the fact that my child probably benefits from relaxing through playing a game on her phone after an intensive school day. That might be the new ‘normal’ in 2019. No more sermons from Dad.

 But shall we clean up the mess in your room first, please?

In a moment, Dad, finishing level 3!