Video games offer escape for stressed, overworked students

A controller for Sony's Play Station 4 next to a Nintendo Switch, one of the biggest consoles and handheld gaming devices respectively. (By Shelby Kleinhans / Daily Lobo / @realShelbyK)

By Jesus Mata / The Daily Lobo

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published by the Daily Lobo, minus the YouTube video below. 

Video games have become a refuge in many people’s lives during the coronavirus pandemic, and studies show that video games are a ray of light for mental health amid dark times.

Video games help people detach from the problems going on in the real world, according to Dakoda Emberlin, the vice president of communication and marketing for the University of New Mexico’s esports team.

Screenshot from the game Abzu. (Jesus Mata / NM News Port)

“It’s a lot of escapism,” Emberlin said. “Whenever you play a video game, you’re not playing yourself. I’m not playing Dakoda in a video game.”

This is especially useful in times of global crisis, Emberlin said.

“For a moment in time, I get to forget everything that’s going on here,” Emberlin said. “I get to forget COVID, I get to forget that I’ve got student loans out the wazoo, I get to forget all those things. For a moment, I’m somebody else, and I’m doing something cool that I could never do in real life.”

UNM professor Chris Holden has research interests in gaming and learning and incorporates video games into his curriculum.

“My classes are always designed in some ways as refuges from the rest of the world and other people’s problems,” Holden said.

Emberlin said playing video games and being a part of the esports club helps him maintain the relationships that are vital for his mental health.

“(Playing video games) lets me have somebody I can connect with. Even though it’s virtual, it really doesn’t matter to me because the feeling is still there,” Emberlin said. “I still have friends I can talk to; I still have people that I can rely on if I’m stressed. There are friendships I’ve made in the club that I would never have made if I was a normal student going about my day not joining anything.”

Screenshot of race from Mario Kart 8. (Jesus Mata / NM News Port)

Holden said another positive trait of video games is that you can always take a step back if needed, unlike the real world.

“That’s one of the biggest ways that games can provide safe spaces … If it ever gets to be something you don’t want to do, you can turn it off,” Holden said.

However, Holden said video games have the potential to cause harm to a person’s mental health despite the positives. 

“Probably the biggest thing that I would think about is GamerGate. Essentially, the cultural world of games have never been especially friendly to women and people of color and any other kinds of form of difference,” Holden said.

UNM student Isaiah Soliz said video games help keep him busy in large spaces of empty time and relax when he’s feeling overwhelmed.

“If I’m not in a good mood, I really don’t want to do the things I enjoy, but I think sometimes (video games) can get me out of a funk,” Soliz said.

Holden said he wants his classes to be a space where his students can focus on what’s going on in the class and forget about the outside world.

“If you’re with a small group of people and you can work on these ideas together, then that’s a small world where things can go all right even if things are tough everywhere else, which for me has been very important for my mental health,” Holden said.

Jesus Mata is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @JesusMataJr99