When students are stressed, they turn to games: UBC professor explains psychology behind gaming

Between the Zoom calls, the constant stream of Canvas notifications and all the emotions that come with living through a global pandemic, UBC students have turned to video games as a way to escape the stressors of everyday life.

UBC professor and registered clinical psychologist Dr. Amori Mikami explained the psychology behind why students are turning to video games to escape from reality.

“It's enjoyable and it's pleasurable to experience a different world, to sometimes escape your current reality. You can also learn things to about that world or about yourself from just having a different experience and being able to see things in a different perspective,” said Mikami.

Mikami also explained how video games are produced by game designers “strictly for the purpose of helping people to explore new things” and that they provide the gamer with a sense of mastery over things — such as when one finds themselves getting better at a specific task within a game or when their character levels up.

The social aspect of gaming is also attractive to many students during stressful times. During the pandemic, with many in-person events cancelled or postponed indefinitely, students are looking for new ways to connect with friends and build community.

"There's an aspect of connecting with other players through the game where you might either collaborate to reach endgame goals,” said Mikami. “Sometimes it's [done in] a competitive structure where you are competing against other players,” said Mikami.

Mikami added that those games allow for social connection with other players.

A notable example of the community aspect of gaming in action is Among Us.

Among Us, an online multiplayer social deduction game, is a favourite of gamers and nongamers alike and its popularity is evident within the UBC student community.

In a survey of 124 UBC students, 52.8 per cent play Among Us at least once a week, yellow and white are the most popular colours of crewmates. Also, 40.7 per cent agree that red is the most sus, a term used to label suspicious players who may be the imposter.

You can’t go on a UBC student Facebook page without finding at least one Among Us event hosted by a club or organization. It’s an easy and fun way to escape reality, connect with friends and build community amidst remote learning and social distancing guidelines.

When asked why they play Among Us, UBC students responded with a variety of answers. Some mentioned that they find it fun or enjoy playing with friends while others find it an easy way to hold social events or destress after a long week of midterms.

Students don’t just choose relaxing social games to unwind after a long day of Collaborate Ultra classes. Many students turn to more stress-inducing games in which they are being chased or hunted or have to complete a task within a certain time limit.

Mikami explained that these games generate temporary stress, which is outweighed by the overall experience of the game, which is different from the stress experienced in students’ everyday lives.

With the explanation of the psychology behind gaming provided by Mikami, it shows how video games of all types, such as Among Us, offer an escape from the reality of being a university student during a global pandemic and provide a place to socialize and build community.