Every day, teenagers and adults around the world suffer from the crippling effects of depression. Even worse, doctors are continuously failing to give them the right kind of support and medication they need. Whether it be lack of services and support from those around them (parents, teachers, etc), the growing cost of treatment, or even just plain embarrassment over their situation, depression is rampantly going untreated. However, there might be an unexplored, effective, and affordable solution right under everyone’s eyes: video games. While it may sound crazy, recent studies have shown that video games actually contribute to lessening the debilitating effects of mild to moderate depression. This article will explore the different ways that video games have been (and have the possibility to be) an effective and alternative relief from different types of depression, personality disorders, and other such illnesses.
Due to the lack of knowledge and publicity surrounding studies associated with treatment in regards to gaming, video games are typically associated with causing problems like severe addiction, anti-social disorder, and other crippling disorders. However, I believe that the saying “everything in moderation” definitely applies in this case. For example, Adderall is a helpful drug used to treat the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, it is currently being misused and abused by millions of students across the globe. Students are using Adderall to help keep them awake all night to study for exams, and are becoming increasingly addicted to it, causing major health issues such as paranoia, hallucinations, uncontrollable shaking, weight loss, etc. The same goes for many prescription drugs these days. Allergy and sinus medications like Sudafed are being boiled down to make the addictive drug crystal meth (as seen in the popular TV show Breaking Bad). While my example might be extreme, my point is simple: everything, even helpful medications regularly prescribed by doctors, can turn into a problem when used incorrectly. Video games are the same way. If left unregulated and abused, they can definitely lead to issues related to addiction, just as any drug might. The following paragraphs will outline positive examples of video games used as therapy and treatment for depression and other disorders caused by debilitating diseases like cancer and other illnesses.
The average “gamer” starts playing games in adolescence, and the average age of the typical gamer is 30, according to the EEDAR database (Electronic Entertainment Design and Research). Therefore, it might be surprising to learn that Terry Bolt started playing the massively multiplayer online role-play game World of Warcraft at the age of 60, along with her sister. Unfortunately, it was at that same age that she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of hormonal cancer, and given less than six months to live. Fortunately for her, that was four years ago. Thanks to a risky surgery and her online family, Terry Bolt is alive and kicking today. She thanks the amazing oncologists who removed almost 15 pounds of tumors from her body for treating the cancer, but she thanks her online family and World of Warcraft for helping her get through that terrible time in her life. In her documentary, Terry states “You don’t talk about what’s going on with your family or your husband, because they worry. You talk to the people online,” she said. World of Warcraft acted as her own personal support system through these trialing times. The game also acted as an escape for her during the most trying of times. Cancer is a sickness that often times takes over your entire body. You’re constantly regulating this and testing that, while your family is constantly calling to see how you’re doing. Depression associated with cancer often arises because there is seemingly no break from the constant reminder that you’re sick and dying. However, for Terry Bolt, World of Warcraft provided that escape. In the documentary, her daughter, comedian Andie Bolt states that “In game, you’re accomplishing something, not just talking about your problems. For her, she’s not a burden to her loved ones.” Terry herself goes on to state “You can be beautiful, strong, a handsome man, an elf,” Terry said. “Anything you wanna be, or can’t be in real life. You can go to a new world where you can meet new friends, and they don’t have to know you’re sick.” In the world of Warcraft, or any MMORPG, you can create your own fantasy life. You can virtually live through your avatar. You can be healthy, thriving, powerful… the reflection of who you are on the inside, not who you are on the outside… and not the person cancer is forcing you to be.
Although treatment of illnesses is a side effect of a game like World of Warcraft, scientists and developers are now working together to create games that are designed to specifically to treat illnesses. For example, at the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas, researchers and developers are experimenting with virtual reality to aid with the social and communication skills of those diagnosed with mild to moderate cases of autism. They have created a program that allows a person to act through their avatar in simulations of everyday experiences and social scenarios. Carly McCullar, according to an article by Mat Petronzio of Mashable, was diagnosed with autism at 32, and chose to participate in this experiment, and raves about its success. She told Mashable that “The program starts to not feel like a game … It feels real. You know it is an alternate reality, but you feel the same emotions you would feel in the actual situation you are practicing.” The Mashable article also lists another game testing the limits of treatment and virtual reality, named Playmancer, streamlined by the Roessingh Rehabilitation Center. The goal of this game is to have patients create avatars and attempt to make choices that will lead them to have a happy and healthy life, instead of choices that will lead to alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, and other issues being treated at the Rehab Center.
While the research is still extremely new, and the current platforms testing this subject are limited, the video game industry is making huge strides in the world of therapy and rehabilitation. I’d be willing to say that every gamer out there can say that gaming has effected them positively in at least one way, from opening the door to lifelong friends, to giving them an escape from their worries, to helping with practice in a “real world” environment, to allowing them to live their dreams through their virtual avatar. We live in a day and age that is frowning upon the excessive use of medication to “dope up” our children and loved ones. Video games as therapy provide a fun and drug-free treatment alternative. The research is expanding, the games are being developed… the possibilities are limitless. Never underestimate potential of a gamer.
WoW Mom Documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxewODmZoyI
Mashable Article: http://mashable.com/2014/10/23/video-games-for-therapy/
EEDAR Statistics: http://www.eedar.com/Services/QuantQual.aspx