How video games can help in therapy

To some it might seem odd to think of video games as possessing therapeutic value, while to others is makes perfect sense. In actual fact, it is not a new idea and there has been research for a decade or more suggesting how gaming can help people in a range of ways. This blog draws on our own experience at Conversations With Impact utilising gaming in therapy.

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A few years ago, I came across a lady called Jane McGonigal and a TED Talk she did on how gaming helped her overcome a difficult period in her life. (Since then Jane McGonigal has gone on to write extensively about the positive contribution, she feels gaming can make to people and the world generally. Her books have become bestsellers and are well worth a read.) At that time, I was working at De Montfort University, Leicester, which offered degrees connected to gaming. This coincidence meant I was able to integrate gaming into my work with students and I have never looked back.

Resilience, determination and never-say-die attitude

The main idea is that gaming can help someone who is struggling in some way to develop a positive mindset and acquire important skills and abilities. This is because a positive mindset, cognitive skills such as quick and creative thinking, and even social skills such as teamwork, all come naturally to gamers. Gamers are resilient, determined and motivated to achieve their goals. In gaming, challenges are there to be overcome; problems are there to be solved; and the hero’s journey there to be completed. Failure is not a word that gamers understand. ‘Never-say-die!’

Gaming perspectives

When working with clients, I suggest gaming offers many perspectives on life’s challenges and difficulties they can use. Even if they are not dedicated gamers, I tell them they can still benefit from the gaming world. For example:

  • Multiple levels of challenge and difficulty are accepted in gaming
  • The harder the game gets, the more progress is being made
  • Gamers take their history with challenge from one level into the next…
  • …and they also bring the resources, strengths and experience gained as well
  • It is expected that each new level will stretch and challenge more than the previous one
  • The gamer is always looking for new allies to collaborate and cooperate with
  • Progress can only be made once certain clues have been found and riddles solved
  • Threats, risks and dangers are anticipated, prepared for and dealt with
  • The gamer has complete belief in their potential to succeed
  • The final level, it is accepted, will be the hardest and will test the gamer to their limits, but that is ok because by then the gamer is ready

Better mental health and wellbeing

When gaming appeals to a client, it can help them be who they are in the gaming world in their real life. The gaming work I have done with clients to help them achieve better mental health and wellbeing, has included:

  • Using guided imagery, a type of imagination activity, to help clients use their imaginations to their gaming confidence into real life situations
  • Designing problem-solving gaming scenarios that match those from clients’ lives
  • Writing gaming stories and narratives that reveal how heroes succeed in their quest
  • Creating gaming characters and choosing the skills, qualities and characteristics they need o succeed

Anecdotally, gaming has helped some of my clients with difficult emotions such as anxiety and depression and given them back control over their imaginations and relationships. Gaming is not without its downsides, of course, and gaming addiction has been identified as a genuine form of addiction that has caused problems for gamers and their families. However, this is to miss the point of the ‘gaming as therapy’ idea. In the hands of someone like Jane McGonigal or an experienced therapist, gaming can, in our experience, be a valuable tool in the promotion of positive mental health and wellbeing.

Creative support

If you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing, but need a more creative form of therapy to support you through a difficult time, then please get in touch. Using video gaming is just one creative approach we take to help you get to where you want to be in life.