6qPdsqYnBy Erin Caine

Lifestyle Editor

Video games have long been the subject of some pretty polarized debate.

While some see it as just a pastime, others link playing video games to negative health consequences. Recent studies, however, see the potential for gaming as therapy.

It might be hard to wrap one’s head around the suggestion that video games can be a tool for better mental health. After all, it is widely believed that video games (many of them about warfare and fighting) are linked to violent behavior, especially in young men.

Not to mention, there are studies that suggest that being addicted to gaming contributes to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Other studies, however, such as one published by the University of Vienna back in 2010, see excessive gaming as a symptom of those issues—a valuable coping strategy—rather than the cause.

An article from American Psychologist notes that video games have “changed dramatically in the last decade, becoming increasingly complex, diverse, realistic, and social in nature.”

The sociology world recognizes “gamification,” i.e. injecting everyday activities with the principles of games, as a boost to public health, education, and productivity.

Video games, which have introduced more and more team-reliant and multi-player features over the years, may even be able to help develop better teamwork skills.

As for those suffering with mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, an article published in Molecular Psychiatry last year noted that video games may be able to help in those cases, as well.

The study had patients with PTSD play the game “Tetris.” Because of the mental engagement that happens when we focus on a game, those who played it experienced far fewer intrusive thoughts than those who didn’t.

Patrick Shanley of The Hollywood Reporter noted a study conducted in 2018 by the University of York in England that “explored the notion of ‘priming’—the idea that exposing individuals to concepts in media makes those concepts easier to use in real life.”

Of course, that means the responsibility rests with game developers to create games that are true-to-life and humane at their core, or ones that present players with realistic consequences for actions.

As it’s been noted, though, by Dr. David Zendle, a lecturer at York St. John University, gaming as therapy is a topic that continues to be “understudied.”

With any luck, the future of mental health treatment will be open to the possibility of new methods.

The Elm

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