Video Games: The New Therapy?

Primarily, video games are a form of entertainment; a game that has since evolved into cultural, artistic and narrative forms. Recently, however, they have evolved past these definitions and entered the realms of education, as learning tools, and healthcare, as a form of therapy.

Emerging research suggests that video games today have the potential to be applied in preventative and therapeutic medicine – particularly as cognitive distraction, mental health management and psychotherapy. It’s incredible to think that something that was designed as a novelty has transcended its own design to become an integral part of our everyday lives – with the further potential to heal.

The future holds myriad possibilities for the implementation of therapeutic game-playing. Virtual reality, for example, has the ability to physically transport the human mind into another world with the aid of a headset. The potential benefits that this could hold for, say, PTSD sufferers to revisit trauma in a safe, controlled environment; for anxiety sufferers to temporarily escape their thoughts; or even as a means of helping autistic people make sense of their world. It could revolutionise modern therapeutic practices.

Thankfully, with innovations such as Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller, gaming is becoming even more accessible than first imagined.

Xbox: “When everybody plays, we all win.”

The emergent nature of gameplay experiences adds additional complexity to understanding the interactions between the traditional individual, social, and cultural factors of health. Technological advances in the industry have led to a wide variety of experiences that could be utilised as therapy: from motion-tracked exercise, to cognitive-based puzzles, gaming offers something for everyone. Medical professionals could soon prescribe tailored gaming experiences for individuals in need of them.

As illustrated below,  the individual and social context of users may drive video game play, which offers specific benefits such as purposeful engagement and social interactions that could also form the basis of intervention.

Digital gaming today is a far cry from the 1980s. Internet connectivity has fostered hyperconnected global communities of gamers and distributed social networks through play, the consequences and implications of which are poorly understood. This research possibility will require innovative collaborations between academia, gaming communities, and private sector developers.

As Carl Jung said, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct”. We might be a decade or more away from important breakthroughs that leverage video gaming to heal people and populations. Learning how to harness these play possibilities for clinical and public health good will first require us in the public health and clinical research community to think outside the proverbial [X]box.

For more information, check out the article, ‘Commercial Video Games As Therapy: A New Research Agenda to Unlock the Potential of a Global Pastime’ here.