Fun. Addictive. Time wasting. Violent. Although these adjectives aren’t usually used together, they have all been used to describe video games in the past. Recently, however, more and more people have begun to describe video games as relaxing, too - replacing the ordinary stereotypes put on this area of media.

Everyday life is harsh and unforgiving, particularly as one moves on from the bliss of childhood into the burdens of adolescence and adulthood. Everyone suffers from some type of stress in their lifetime, whether it be schoolwork, in the workplace, interpersonal relationships, or other. Stress is inevitable and unavoidable, and we can only do our best to combat it in the ways we know how.

However, in addition to the typical anxieties of daily life,  recent research reveals that more people are suffering from mental illnesses - which are much more difficult to combat - than ever before. According to Mind UK, approximately 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem every year. Additionally, 1 in 6 people in England report experiencing a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, in any given week - not including those unreported cases within prisons, sheltered housing or the homeless.

Ultimately, these statistics aren’t shocking when we consider the worries that plague the public in the 21st century. Financial issues, relationship drama and employment opportunities (or lack thereof) only scratch the surface of any given person’s difficulties, and the prevalence of technology and the media in such a fast-paced world only adds layers of anxiety to already-hectic lifestyles. Taking this into consideration, it is unsurprising that the number of people suffering from mental illnesses has increased at such a rate.

However, there are methods of coping with mental health problems. Whilst a list of suggestions for this would typically include medication, therapy and self-care - all of which have been proven to be highly beneficial - people have also been turning to more creative ways of doing so. One such example is the usage of video games.

Video games have long had the reputation of being excessively violent. In some cases, this is correct; many games focus explicitly on killing and bloodshed as their primary themes, and reward the player for doing so, paving the way to potential desensitisation of these issues in a real world context.

However, this stereotype is also often uncalled for. When people write off video games as being ‘violent’, they often forget most video games aren’t as ‘violent’ as worried parents would argue. They also forget the benefits that such environments are able to bring.

One such example of video games improving mental health is in the Animal Crossing series. These games are open-ended life simulations, where the player is encouraged to perform numbers of tasks in their own town, including: collecting items, customising your town, and most importantly, conversing with the town residents - all of which consist of cheerful, yet poignant, anthropomorphic animals.

What makes Animal Crossing so beneficial to mental health, however, is its lack of objective. The only aim of the game is to ‘exist’ in its world, which is controlled by the real life clock. Check the game at 5am, and the residents are only just waking up. Check in at 7pm, and your friends in the game are hurriedly flitting in and out of shops, right before they close.

The freedom that this game offers gives the player an incentive to return to the game, time and time again. Whether it’s to talk to an NPC during a specific time; or to visit a friend’s town; or even simply to listen to the soothing hourly music the game cycles through - one is never bored while playing Animal Crossing, the game that has no set objective. Far from being violent, this video game series relaxes the player, providing them with the sense of satisfaction and productivity one experiences after completing menial tasks - a feeling so often missed in the busy world of today.

It is obvious that video games alone are not the solution to mental health issues. The most efficient way to deal with poor mental health is to seek professional help, as it always has been. However, we should also consider the benefits of activities that parts of society have stereotyped in a negative fashion. Video games fall under this - so instead of mindlessly writing them off as ‘violent’, we should appreciate them for providing the sense of escapism that we sorely need in the face of such a demanding world.