Wednesday , October 20 2021

Mental Wellness: The Way Forward With Gaming & Gamification For Students

79% of corporate and university learners admitted that a gamified learning environment would enhance their motivation and productiveness

A student’s time is mostly invested in the pursuit of academic learning and excellence. It’s the burden of studies and expectations of academic performance, coupled with a myriad influences, hormonal and physiological changes, that impact their psychological health. In the 21st century endless information and external stimuli explosion, increasing screen time, and a sedentary lifestyle have complicated the problem further, making mental health a complex challenge to address.

The mental health challenge for this age group in India is more serious because parents or caregivers are not fully equipped to support their children. Even if they could understand the problems of those students in need, the taboo surrounding the issue make seeking professional help complicated. When the first pillar of support fails in independent assessment and addressing the problem, the pressure of competition, and facing daily challenges becomes an insurmountable hurdle.

This leaves us with a problem that needs a multidimensional solution. This year, the World Mental Health Day is being observed with the theme “Mental health care for all – Let’s make it a reality!” In a country like India, where only 40% of youngsters think seeking help for mental health problems is okay, it becomes imperative to focus on prevention, rather than treatment. While certain mental health conditions may not be preventable, necessitating adequate healthcare services for the patients, the progression of many can be delayed. It is vital that people get access to newer and more avenues of relieving stress and anxieties at a daily level to lead a longer life of psychological wellbeing.

The scale of Mental Health Issues in Students

As per a 2017 Lancet study, it was estimated that India had 197·3 million people suffering from mental disorders, including 45·7 million facing depressive and 44·9 million facing anxiety disorders. Pertaining to the youth, the report also states: “The prevalence of anxiety disorders in both sexes increased rapidly in adolescents and young adults and was higher in females than in males in most age groups.” With youth in India (15-24 years) accounting for over one-fifth of the Indian population, the age group is also expected to have a sizeable share of students who are lacking in psychological wellbeing. We can only assume that the incidence of mental health and its effect is going to be much higher given the lockdown measures because of COVID, where the kids and young adults had to suddenly forgo all interactions with peer groups and trainers beyond parents.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further triggered a range of anxieties across age-groups. While children in the initial formative age are missing out on vital avenues of behavioural and cognitive development, with regards to mental health, it’s the adolescent and graduating adults who are being affected the most. As this age group is more concerned about what they should be doing next, they are more stressed owing to continuing uncertainties.

UNESCO estimates that globally schools were not fully functional for over 30 weeks between March 2020 and May 2021, with a cumulative impact on at least 92.50 crore learners worldwide and over 32 crore school learners in India. Crores of students weren’t even able to attend the online classes due to lack of proper infrastructure. Understandably, the students in the age groups have immense anxieties concerning their present and future. It is a difficult time for students, who are sceptical of the consequences of the lost months. And we need all the help we can get be it online games, gamification of learning or even life skills taught on short and viral video formats. We don’t just need to cope we need to adapt.

A Novel Approach to Foster Psychological Wellbeing

There have been years of research now which indicates that video and game-based learning enhances motivation, cognitive functions, retention, and performance. As shown in a study, 79% of corporate and university learners admitted that gamified learning environment would enhance their motivation and productiveness. Another study showed that in skill-based knowledge assessment, gamified e-learning increased student’s scores by 14% and knowledge retention by 9%.

The pandemic has put the spotlight on remote and virtual learning as well as online and distance education. Today, children are struggling to understand and follow teachers in online classes. Furthermore, online education would need effective and large-scale translations for subjects, courses, levels, and people across states. Gamified platforms can make learning language agnostic, enhancing effectiveness of the course and reducing the cost and time implications of undertaking massive translations. The better the students learn, in an easy, interesting, and interactive way, the lesser would be the stress related to studies.

Mental Health Benefits of Gaming and Gamification

A 2020 study was conducted on 358 participants using an emotional fitness game application. The first-of-its-kind randomised controlled trial (RCT) study reported that the gamified application “increased personal growth and positive relations with others”. Furthermore, the gamified application ensured 90% adherence and retained 21% more participants than the control or waitlist groups, significantly raising mental well-being and decreasing self-reported anxiety.1 Thus, gamified platforms can be an effective means to foster well-being, enhance motivation, and reduce attrition. Similarly, in yet another study, 2 which was conducted by Oxford academics on 3270 participants, playing time data was associated positively with greater wellbeing amongst gamers.

Youth and young adults are always supporters of tech led solutions. As the number of gamers grew along with PCs, desktops and mobile phones, gaming therapy support for mental health complaints became more personal and easily accessible without getting into a hospital queue or fear of getting socially exposed.

Journal of Biomedical Informatics has made an effort to assimilate findings from 46 studies from multiple sources for understanding gamification strategies employed in e-Health and to address the benefits and possible pitfalls of this emerging discipline. The results show that the majority of the papers selected reported gamification and serious gaming in health and wellness are not only limited to mental health but also beneficial for various chronic disease rehabilitation. Gaming and health are complementary to each other in for this World Mental Health Day, we need to pledge to work together.

There is no denying that gaming can make mental healthcare accessible to billions. The flourishing gaming industry of India can partner the mental health councils and departments with well-researched dedicated games for treatments. Games – both online and offline offers the outlet for energy and frustration, it also teaches the participants that, it is important to compete rather than win.

The Life-Skill Lessons that can be taught by gaming has opened a completely new world for mental health assessments—and it is up to the practitioners to make the best use of the emerging platform. Various gamification approaches, whether it is by online-gaming, game-based learning, gamified platforms or therapeutic games, all have been found to have benefits in addressing mental health issues in various studies conducted across the world. Gamification is increasingly being associated with improving adherence to mental health protocols, in fostering motivation, and in increasing the resilience of players. So is gaming and gamification the right play to solve mental health in India? It is definitely worth a shot.

The Author is Dr Subi Chaturvedi, Chief Corporate and Public Affairs Officer, Zupee, Online.

About Subi Chaturvedi

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