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10 Ways Video Games Can Be Therapeutic

CBR logo CBR 9/23/2022 Rebekah Krum
© Provided by CBR

Video games are primarily a recreational activity. Almost every game is developed with the intention of entertaining the player. However, that does not mean that their use is limited to amusement. Video games can also provide effective therapeutic tools for both medical and psychological providers.

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Professionals have been integrating toys and entertainment activities into their treatment plans for hundreds of years, especially when working with pediatric patients. As a newer technology, video games have been implemented less than other methods of play, but their use in the field is steadily increasing as the benefits of their implementation shine through in ongoing studies.

Performance At Certain Gaming Skills Can Monitor Symptoms

Though a player's skill and success at gaming tasks are variable from person to person, their individual performance can show patterns. Multiple studies have observed the use of commercial video games as tools for monitoring patients' statuses. One, in particular, focused on using the solitaire game FreeCell to monitor cognitive function in elderly patients without intruding upon their day-to-day activities.

Repeated, monitored administration of the same level or task in video games has the potential to assist in ongoing symptom evaluation for various patient groups.

Player Reactions To In-Game Circumstances Can Assist In Assessment

Another way that video games can be used to assist professionals as a therapeutic tool is in diagnostic assessments. An article on the use of video games in psychotherapy treatment describes the multiple uses that games could have in that environment.

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A patient's reactions to in-game events and circumstances could be used to determine details of their cognitive processing, like frustration tolerance, memory, and motor skills. Their efficacy in play and progress through tasks can also assist the provider in determining their capacity for improvisational problem-solving.

Gaming Can Improve Visuomotor Controls

Video games, by their nature, require players to have a certain level of hand-eye coordination. However, playing them can also improve the gamers' capacity in that realm. A 2016 psychological science study observed that even as little as five hours of playing an action game could enhance patients measured visuomotor skills and reaction to visual input.

By that logic, consistent play of high-intensity games with fast-paced mechanics, such as first-person shooters or driving games, would help players continue to develop and improve their visuomotor control.

In-Game Exposure Can Enhance Communication Skill Development

A review of several years' worth of studies on video games and their applicability in the field of health revealed that gaming can help in the development of multiple kinds of communication skills. In one case, providing prior exposure to the task of selecting options from an on-screen menu in a video game assisted nonverbal disabled patients in learning to use technological communication devices.

Other observed cases showed that games' pacing, narratives, and visual instruction made them ideal tools for bettering children's essential skill development through play.

Gaming Maintains Physical Safety In Triggering Situations

For many people, the harsh situations that popular video games explore can be triggering, either due to mental health issues or prior trauma. On the other hand, some see this content as an opportunity to revisit upsetting material while maintaining a sense of security. Video games provide immersive environments that allow the player to feel like they are a part of the story.

However, they physically remain in the safety of their own environment, regardless of what is happening within the game. This inherent ability to opt out or step back from the in-game scenario can make skittish gamers feel more secure in playing more intense titles.

Cooperative Games Can Be Relationship-Building Tools

Gaming has always been a somewhat social activity, dating back to the days of arcades. As cooperative games continue to progress and increase in quality, their popularity among couples and close relationships grow as well. Many gaming couples have spoken about how the time they spend together playing games and their shared interest in the hobby have been cornerstones of their relationships.

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Co-op games require players to work together and communicate effectively to succeed at their tasks and quests. Gamers have lauded recent titles like It Takes Two for their relationship-focused cooperative gameplay.

Games Provide Immersive Distraction From Physical Circumstances

Any gamer will tell you that one of the beneficial properties of video games is the element of escapism. The innate immersive qualities of gaming can distract the player from real-life circumstances they might wish to avoid.

An article in a 2006 edition of the journal of Pediatric Anesthesia showed that playing a handheld video game reduced pre-surgery anxiety in children more effectively than medication. In moderation, the departure from reality that video games provide can be beneficial to people with many kinds of issues.

Challenging Games Combat Perfectionism

For those who experience anxiety around perfectionism, video games can provide them a safe space to experience failure. Though the stakes can feel intense in-game, having to try a level or boss again has no impactful consequences in real life. They can continue to try again as many times as it takes to progress through the game.

Many gamers love demanding titles, such as the roguelike genre or works by FromSoftware, for this exact process, extolling the sense of victory they feel upon triumphing over a challenge after repeated attempts.

Narratives Surrounding Personal Struggles Provide Solidarity

For both developers and players, the popularity of games focusing on personal struggles shows them that they are not alone. Titles like Celeste, Gris, Omori, and Night in the Woods tell the stories of their protagonists coping with mental illness.

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Players who have experienced similar issues can relate to and see themselves in the characters and their emotional journeys. As a result, these games can inspire gamers to face down their inner demons with the same voracity they apply to boss battles and complex levels.

Gaming Provides Community

Some of the most important factors for any kind of recovery are a steady support system and a sense of community. Gaming can be an entryway into these things, as many gamers forge strong social groups through their shared interests. Whether through in-game chats in multiplayer online titles or through fandom surrounding their favorite games, players can build relationships on the foundation of their love of gaming.

Online gaming, especially, can be an important social tool for those who struggle with in-person interaction or are unable to leave their homes.

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