I'm nearly 32 years old and I still power up my Xbox almost every day.

I used to feel really guilty and juvenile about still playing video games. I was ashamed to tell people I was a gamer, for fear of the connotation of "loser". People who spend hours controller-in-hand don't exactly have the best rep.

That all changed in the early seasons of House of Cards, when Frank Underwood was frequently seen gaming. After a hard day in the White House, he often retreated to his home for stress relief and to clear his head. The Guardian even pointed out that "[Underwood's] love for video games is so all-consuming that you can accurately judge his state of mind by noting the game he happens to be playing at any time."



I was stoked when I first saw Underwood - then an ambitious whip - letting off some steam with Call Of Duty. I'm of the opinion that video games do not emulate what you want to do in real life, but rather, help take you away momentarily from any real life feelings you're having. By that I mean, I don't think shoot 'em up games actually make people violent, I think they're a great release of tension and healthy way to give yourself a break.

Let's go back to my concern about being seen as juvenile. I suppose I did start gaming when I was a largely solitary teenager. It seems like video games are marketed specifically for teenage boys, so they intrinsically come with that association.

However, it was a great way to be interactive as a 13-year-old who can't yet drive and lives two buses away from everyone else at your school. Gaming is engaging for the curious adolescent mind. Particular types of games teach you problem-solving skills (I was, and still am, partial to Tomb Raider). You get to experience the feeling of success for your hard work and dedication when you "clock" a game; something other teens get from playing team sports but I never did.

As an adult, I use video games for different reasons. They are an escape. I revel in exploring a fantasy world that's nothing like my own life. Gaming is terribly cerebral (unlike watching a film, you can't think about anything else except the task at hand). You can't "double screen" (i.e. scroll through Facebook on your phone at the same time). You become completely and totally fixated for an hour or so, with no room for your real life. Playing a video game is a wonderful reprieve from both the struggles and the banalities of the everyday.


I should also mention that gaming is really social nowadays. Yes, as in interaction with other real human beings. You can have multiple people in a physical living room all playing one game together and sharing a fun experience. Or, thanks to Xbox Live Gold, Playstation Plus and the like, you can collaborate and talk to people on the other side of the world - a personal favourite pastime of mine is gaming with one of my brothers who lives overseas; we get to both chat and do something interactive together, despite our distance.

I liken the positive mental health effects of gaming to that of taking a walk in the park - it gives you a break from your problems. And everyone has problems, big and small, which we can all use time away from every day.

If gaming makes me juvenile - so what? At least I have an outlet that's safer than drinking myself into oblivion or doing anything else necessary to feel numb for a little while.