Back in the early 1980s, video games were mostly being played by kids in arcades. Now, nearly 40 years later, that scene has changed. In fact, a recent study found that 67% of Americans play video games regularly – mostly on smartphones and tablets.(1) And that doesn’t even take into account games played outside of electronics. All that gaming time actually has real-life benefits and can even help with pain management.

Benefits of gaming

Aside from being fun, playing games actually has lots of benefits. Games can be a great source of stress relief. A study of people playing card games found that stress hormones like cortisol were 17% lower in the gamers versus the control group.(2) Since stress exacerbates IC symptoms in patients, being able to lower stress is always positive.

Playing games also helps you develop skills. Playing a challenging card game with friends in person or online can improve memory, concentration and analytical skills.(2) Games can enhance skills so much that a recent study found that surgeons who played video games for more than three hours a week made 32% fewer errors on practice procedures than those who didn’t play games.(3)

Another benefit of gaming is social interaction. Playing games with others in person is certainly a great way to make connections; online gaming offers a similar connection to others while in the comfort of your own home with your bathroom nearby.(2)

Gaming also promotes teamwork and can develop leadership skills. Some games are designed for players to work together in order to win, which helps improve communication and teamwork skills.(2) Along with that, it can also end up making gamers better leaders. Quick thinking in a game to help lead other players through a difficult part can end up helping gamers think faster on their feet when facing a struggle in the real world.(3)

One of the biggest benefits to gaming for IC patients is its potential to help with pain management. It may sound silly to say that playing a game can make your pain better, but research is backing it up. Playing a game can biologically help your pain by producing an analgesic or pain-killing response in your higher cortical system.(3) In fact, a recent study at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles found that patients who were engaged in virtual reality gaming experienced less pain during procedures and had less anxiety.(4) The reduced pain wasn’t only anecdotal. Brain scans showed large reductions in pain-related brain activity while playing a virtual reality game.(4)

Gaming can be a great distraction from pain, help manage pain and be a terrific source of social interaction. And, well, games are just plain fun!

Tabletop games

Figuring out what to play can be a challenge, so understanding the different types of games is a great way to start. Tabletop games are those games that you play physically on a table. Seems straightforward enough. Options for tabletop gaming abound, though. Here are a few of the most popular genres:

  • Roll and move games: You roll dice, spin a wheel or draw cards to move spaces around a board. They include games like Monopoly, Clue, Sorry!, Candyland and The Game of Life.(5)
  • Cooperative games: These are games you play as a team where everyone wins or everyone loses. Usually players are working together for the common good, like saving the world. They include games like Pandemic, Lord of the Rings and Arkham Horror.(5)
  • Deck-building games: In these games, players start with a set number of cards and utilize various resources within their deck to try and defeat opponents. They include games like Dominion, Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game and Roll for the Galaxy.(5)
  • Area control games: These games are all about strategy and claiming space for yourself. The most well-known one is Risk, but it isn’t alone. Other games include Star Wars: Rebellion, Twilight Struggle and Smash Up.(5)
  • Party games: These games can include just about any of the other categories, but basically they are games that are fun, easy to learn and usually pretty quick to play. They include games like Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, Fluxx and Trivial Pursuit.(5)
  • Tabletop role-playing games (RPGs): These games can include miniature figures, but many times they are just paper and pen with dice. Each player has a character sheet to help determine their specific characteristics. One person is the Game Master in charge of running the game, and the other players describe what their characters are doing. Though there are rules and guidelines, players have a chance to be creative and improvise.(6) The most well-known tabletop RPG system is Dungeons and Dragons. Others include Pathfinders and Savage Worlds. Scenarios and settings are widely varied.

These games all require something physical and physical interaction. Most of them have a cost associated with them but aren’t expensive. Checking out games’ websites, descriptions and videos of them being played on YouTube are great ways to get an idea of what the game is like so you can decide whether you’d enjoy it.

Another great way to check out tabletop games and make connections to other gamers is by attending a tabletop gaming convention. While attending a convention can be challenging with IC, there are loads of tabletop gaming conventions of all sizes around the world that can provide various options such as Gen Con in Indianapolis, PaxSouth in San Antonio and Orlando Games Con in Orlando, Fla.(7)

Heading to your local gaming store can also be a great way to connect with other gamers and get your gaming questions answered.(8)

Video games

Just like with tabletop games, the number and type of video games is staggering. Knowing a few of the basic types, though, can help you decide what you’d most like to try. The good news is that many free options are available, and many have an online component to help you connect with others. While you can definitely play video games on a gaming console, such as an xBox, PlayStation or Nintendo Switch, you can also play video games on computers, tablets and smartphones. Here are a few of the most popular video game genres:

  • Sport games: This one is pretty obvious. These are games based on real-world sports like football, basketball, golf, fishing, snowboarding and more. They include things like FIFA 19, NBA 2K19, Madden NFL 20 and MLB The Show 18.(9)
  • Battle royale games: This is a newer category, but it’s grown dramatically in the last couple of years. These games combine survival, exploration and scavenging. Players start with minimal equipment and work to stay safe amongst other players. In general, the winner is the last player or team alive. These include games like Fortnite, Battlegrounds and Ark: Survival of the Fittest.(10)
  • Action games: These games are all about reflexes, reaction time and hand-eye coordination. They include games like Super Mario 3D Land, Kirby’s Adventure and Double Dragon.(11)
  • Adventure games: One of the earliest genres of games, adventure games involve the player going on a quest or adventure and explores and solves puzzles. These games have a lot of storyline and are usually single player games. Their popularity has been declining recently.(12)
  • Action-adventure games: Much like the name suggests, these games combine action games with adventure games. In fact, while adventure games have been on a decline, it’s mostly because they are being replaced with action-adventure games.(11) Recent popular games in this genre include The Legend of Zelda, God of War and Assassin’s Creed.
  • Role-playing games (RPGs): Just like their tabletop counterparts, video RPGs can come in a variety of settings. Players control a fictional character and takes him or her on a quest through an imaginary world.(11) Some recent popular titles include Diablo III, Dragon Quest XI and Dark Souls Remastered.(13)

A few other genres of games are pretty straightforward in their titles. There are also racing games, fighting games, strategy games and simulator games.(11) And that doesn’t even count the huge amount of video games based on tabletop games. You can find pretty much any board or card game you enjoy in a digital format as well. To find game ideas, reviews and information even within a very specific genre or format, check out gaming news sites such as IGN and Giant Bomb.

Video games, in particular, have garnered so much attention for helping with pain that a game called Shadow’s Edge was created and released for smartphones (both Apple and Android) that is geared specifically toward young people with chronic illness. Shadow’s Edge, which is a free download, has players enter a world destroyed by The Storm, which represents chronic illness. As players make their way through the game, they write in private journals, interact with other players and create graffiti art.(14)

While tabletop games offer a variety of experiences and can be a great way to connect with friends and family you already have, they don’t lend themselves quite as well to connecting with new people in the same way that online games do. Within most genres of video games, you can find MMOs, which are massive multi-player online games. They require an internet connection. Some are easier played on a computer, but others work well even on smartphones or tablets.

Beware that free MMOs may have options to spend real money buying additional items to play with in the game, but the best ones shouldn’t require that you have to buy anything in order to progress in the game. If it does, pick a different one! Find a good list of free MMOs here.

Safety considerations

Just like with anything done online, be sure to keep safety in mind as you delve into the gaming world to both distract yourself from pain and make connections with other folks from the comfort of your own home. Use common sense to beware of strangers. You don’t want to give out personal information or use your actual name for your screen name/gamer tag.(15) And if someone you’re playing with gives you the creeps or says inappropriate things, block them and report them in need be to the game’s moderators.(15)

That’s not to say, though, that you can’t make good connections and get to know people in games. Pay attention to users you like playing with (maybe even write the names down) and consider messaging them when you are online at the same time to ask about playing together. Consider trying to make specific plans to play together.(8)

Other ways to find trusted people to game with is by asking friends and family for connections to gamers. In fact, you might be surprised at how active in gaming your own friends and family members are! You can also look for gaming groups on social media to potentially connect with fellow gamers.(8)

The best thing about games is that you aren’t limited to just one. You can try a wide variety of games and keep it interesting. You can use games how you want to, whether you want to play on your own for a distraction, in person with friends and family or online with other people. Give new games a try when you can; you may be surprised at what you end up enjoying!


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  2. Uppal S. 5 Psychological Benefits of Online Games. Entrepreneur India. Oct. 30, 2017.
  3. Mental Floss. 15 Surprising Benefits of Playing Video Games. 2017.
  4. Black R. Gaming as a Tool for Pain Relief. Practical Pain Management. Updated Feb. 5, 2018 Volume 18, No.1.
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  6. Wikipedia. Tabletop Role-Playing Game.
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  9. Mazique B. 5 Best Sports Video Games Of 2018. Forbes. Jan. 5, 2019.
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  11. TechNavio Blog. Top 10 Most Popular Game Genres in the World 2018. Sept. 10, 2018.
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  13. Brown P. All The Best RPGs Of 2018 Based On Review Score. Game Spot. Dec. 27, 2018.
  14. Marie C. This Game is Designed to Help People with Chronic Illness. The Versed. April 22, 2019.
  15. Internet Safety 101. How to Stay Safe on Gaming Sites.