Is there a future for therapy in gaming?

Gaming often gets a bad rep when it comes to its effect on people’s lives, with the industry being blamed for influencing negative behavioural changes and being a cause of addiction.

In June 2018, negative gaming patterns were identified as their own category of mental health simply called “gaming disorder”. Most recently, China has taken gaming regulation to the next level and limited all gaming for under 18s to a limit of 90 minutes a day and never after 10pm. It is clear that we are becoming aware of the potentially harmful effects of gaming in society.

However, rather than participating in that debate, we’ll be looking at whether there is a brighter future ahead for gaming that many may not have even considered: a role in mental health support. It may seem a bit far-fetched today, but there are some fascinating developments being made in the industry that deserve more mainstream attention.

Virtual therapy

There are huge advancements in the VR industry in the way of mental health treatment. VR enabled psychological therapy is where patients navigate through digitally-created environments and complete specially designed tasks tailored to treat a specific ailment. This service is already delivering more positive mental health outcomes than regular psychiatry and in the future it is expected to provide a better-quality service that is available cheaper and at mass scale.

VR and gaming is also being used to treat soldiers with PTSD or anyone who experiences regular anxiety. Deep VR is a new game that places the character in a calming underwater environment where you navigate through breathing, such as deep breaths allowing you to swim up further. This will put the gamer in a calming state of meditation and transport them far away from their real-world stress. The creators at the deep team say: “the goal is not to use DEEP as a tool to get rid of anxiety and depressive feelings altogether, but rather to embolden players to become aware of the ebb and flow of these emotions and ride them through”.

Image credit: Tyler Smith

Physical therapy

The Wii is already used to give patients the confidence to move their limbs and encourage movement in a way that matches up with their treatment plans, but this gaming technology is expected to become a lot more advanced in the future. A platform called CAREN straps patients into a virtual world where they can develop and build their mobility. 

The game makes detailed analysis and evaluations of their subjects behaviour and can include visual, auditory, vestibular and tactile sensory inputs. The therapist can monitor how the patient responds to the movement challenges in the game and alter the treatment plan accordingly.

Before we finish, something must be said about how traditional gaming can help people through tough times. Player testimonies say online gaming can create a network of friends for people who struggle making mates in person and it can be used as an escape when the mind is overwhelmed by negative feelings. If you are looking to learn more about modern day gaming and mental health, we recommend the Low Batteries series on YouTube.

Also, if you are concerned that you or a friend may have a gaming addiction, please consider reaching out to your GP for help and guidance.

By Harvey Clitheroe

Feature image credit: Tyler Smith

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