Video games are bad and violent, right? Who knows what depths I might sink to as a result of shooting all those buffalo when I was playing Oregon Trail back in the day? Except that’s not quite how it works in reality.
The research on violence and video games is a lot more complicated than that, but one trend is clear: Video games have a lot of potential uses as part of therapy. One study suggested that playing Tetris in the few hours after a traumatic event might reduce flashbacks from a traumatic event.
Another study found that some people with learning disabilities found that gaming increased their performance on attention tasks.
Even Grand Theft Auto has its benefits. When older adults played the game regularly, they were able to maintain more cognitive functioning than non-gamers, which has the potential to make them safer drivers (a little counter-intuitive when you think about the content of the game, but OK.)
Some companies have taken therapeutic gaming to a completely new level by designing games that are intended to help people develop coping strategies for dealing with mental illness. In some cases, the research has even included input from people who have a mental health diagnosis, to make sure that the game is as useful for them as it’s intended to be.
None of them would be a good replacement for therapy, and they aren’t intended to be, but in between sessions or when you’re on a waiting list, they might help.
Here are a few of the games that have been designed to help manage depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems:
- Depression Quest – This is an interactive fiction game where you play as someone living with depression. You are given a series of everyday life events and have to attempt to manage your illness, relationships, job, and possible treatment. This game aims to show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people.
- Night in the Woods – The game helps players develop coping skills for depression and anxiety as they play the character Mae, a woman who dropped out of college and returned to her hometown to find that everything looking a bit darker and scarier.
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – Beautiful graphics, and it teach coping skills for psychosis (for example, schizophrenia) through the eyes of a Celtic warrior named Senua, who is attempting to save the soul of her lover.
- Gris – A serene and elegant game with no violence, that shows how the main character, a young girl, slowly learns to cope with grief and loss through puzzles and skill-based challenges.
- Celeste – A story-based video game that helps players develop skills for coping with depression and anxiety as the main character battles her own inner demons as she tries to climb a mountain.
- Sea of Solitude – The main character, Kay, becomes monster as her loneliness, anger, and feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness take over. The game helps her develop insights and skills for recovering from these feelings,
These games typically aren’t long plays, but some of them have absolutely spectacular graphics. If you’re looking for a new way of developing coping skills and interacting with a character that understands your experiences, these might be worth trying.
Aimee Daramus, PsyD is a psychologist based in Chicago, Illinois.