Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Video Games as Therapy: Ludotherapy?

I recently stumbled upon a new website, How Games Saved My Life. Today they (well, Ashly), published my story about how Persona 3 helped (is helping, I'm still playing) me think of social links as something I can make in my real life. Reading the other posts on the blog, I'm struck by this paradigm-shifting, anxiety-neutralizing power of video games. I think there's a lot of untapped potential here!

I did a little research, and I found out that at least one therapist has used video games in his therapy (I'm relieved, since it seems like a no-brainer). A dissertation by Kevin Boyd Hull entitled "Computer/Video Games as a Play Therapy Tool in Reducing Emotional Disturbances in Children" found that video games are an effective play therapy in helping children who suffer from emotional problems. I dug up the PDF and found this charming interchange about Transformers:

Therapist: So the Decepticons are bad guys? 
John: Yes, they are the bad ones trying to take over the world because they want to live here. Like, their planet is dying so they came here. 
Therapist: What makes them bad? 
John: They want to hurt humans and the Transformers want to help the humans. 
Therapist: Do you ever feel like you are battling Decepticons in real life? 
John: Yeah, like the people that make fun of me at school.  
Therapist: So, they feel like the Decepticons?  
John: Yeah, sometimes I hate them. 
 Another child discusses his experience with playing Runescape:
Therapist: Now, Marco, we’ve talked a little bit about how we are going to use the games, and I know that you know you are here because of the sadness issue,  but I was wondering if you could share what life is like for you in regards to the sadness. 
Marco: It is like a sense of futility. 
Therapist: Futility?
Marco: Yes, futility. That nothing that I do is going to matter. I mean, you know, you do well in school, then you pass to the next grade. And on and on. Finally you graduate and then you find a job. Then it’s the same thing over and over. Futility. 
Therapist: You’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. So is this where the not going to school comes in? 
Marco: Exactly. It just gets to the point for me to where I don’t want to pretend anymore and it just seems pointless to go.  
Therapist: Yet the game brings you joy, a sense of purpose. 
Marco: Yes, smiley face. (This is his way of saying that he is experiencing happiness). It is the one place that I feel a sense of purpose.  
Therapist: What is happiness for you, and when was the last time you felt happy? 
Marco: Happiness for me is the absence of worry. When I was small, like, early  elementary school I remember feeling happy. It was like going to school and getting good grades made me feel like I had some sense of purpose. Now, there is none. 
Therapist: Now, I’m noticing as we play the game here that you have things that you must accomplish, what are they called again, quests? 
Marco: Yes, quests. You gain enough items and then embark on the quests and it’s a  challenge to see if you can complete the quests.  
Therapist: I’m thinking that life is sort of like that, you know, that you have things that you must accomplish at this stage and then you move on to the next thing. Life is like a quest. 
Marco: I suppose it is, yes it is
It's interesting to see how in the context of therapy, the games are used as metaphors for real-life conflicts. The games provide a medium where these conflicts can be satisfyingly resolved, which I think is responsible for diffusing some frustration in players (if it's a good game!). I hope more therapists can use video games to talk to children about their problems, and in the meantime, it looks like video games can be pretty good self-medication.

P.S. Take a minute to check out Dream with Portals, a collection of remixed and extended Portal 2 tracks that helped this guy overcome insomnia.