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, it makes perfect sense. In 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 my own experience at Conversations With Impact of utilising gaming in my therapy with clients.

Press play

A few years ago, I came across a lady called Jane McGonigal and her TED Talk on how gaming helped her overcome a difficult period in her life. Since then, Jane McGonigal has written 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 several degrees connected to video gaming. This coincidence meant I could integrate gaming into my work with students, and I have never looked back.

Resilience, determination and never-say-die attitude

The main finding of the research into therapy and gaming is that gaming can help someone struggling to develop a positive mindset and acquire essential life skills and abilities. Qualities and characteristics like a positive mindset, cognitive skills such as quick and creative thinking, and even social skills such as teamwork come naturally to gamers. Also, gamers are resilient, determined and motivated to achieve their goals. In gaming:

  • challenges are there to be overcome, not avoided
  • problems are tackled and solved, not left to pile up
  • the hero’s journey is completed come what may
  • failure is not a word that gamers understand
  • there is a never-say-die mentality

It is not hard to see why gaming has so much to offer the therapist with a list like this.

Gaming perspectives

When working with clients, I suggest gaming offers many perspectives on life’s challenges and difficulties they can use. Even if someone is not a dedicated gamer, they can still benefit from what the gaming world offers. For example, in gaming, the player:

  • Accepts multiple levels of challenge
  • Sees increasing difficulty and complexity as signs of progress
  • Never forgets their positive history of challenge, taking it from one level into the next
  • Brings with them the strengths, resources and experiences gained at each level of the game
  • Expects each new level will stretch and challenge more than the previous one
  • Always looks for new allies to collaborate and cooperate with
  • Knows  progress can only be made once they have found the clues and solved the riddles
  • Anticipates, prepares for and deals with threats and dangers
  • Has complete belief in their potential to succeed
  • Accepts the final level will be the hardest and will test them to their limits, but that is ok because by then, they will be ready and up for the fight

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 to help clients apply their gaming confidence to 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 to succeed

Anecdotally, gaming has helped my clients with difficult emotions such as anxiety and depression, given them back control of their academic performance, and increased their self-confidence.

A note of action. Gaming is not without its downsides, and gaming addiction is a genuine form of addiction that has caused problems for gamers and their families. However, this should not overshadow the value gaming has for therapy. In the hands of someone like Jane McGonigal or an experienced therapist, gaming can, in my 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, please get in touch. Using video gaming is just one innovative approach I take as part of my IMPACT Transformation Programmes. To book your free initial consultation, visit my booking page. I will give you as much time as you need to tell me what you are going through and find out how I can help you get your life back on track – using gaming alongside many other ideas and approaches.