Video games aren’t just for playing anymore.

A few years ago, you would NOT have heard me say that. At all. A few years ago, I was NOT a gamer. Didn’t really want to be a gamer, had no desire to even think about it. The amount of time that my then-fiance spent playing games baffled me (and still does, to be honest – I can’t spend 5 hours straight in front of a game!) and the idea that they could be anything but a time waster was a foreign thought to me.

Fast forward seven years. This morning, I started a conversation with my husband of “Did you hear about the setting for Assassin’s Creed III?” Which he hadn’t. One point for me!

But the PAX East schedule came out the other day, and there were a few interesting topics on Friday that I can’t wait to attend; BioWare and Dragon Age forum, in particular, since, yes, I’m going in costume, and they are going to recognize all people in Dragon Age costumes. And the fact that they’re going to show Dawn of the Seeker in its entirety just about made JayRain and I faint.

But.

Oddly, I was surpirised at the fact that I feel drawn to a few “educational” sessions: Gaming and Mental Health, Educating
Through Play (Which I might not make it too, because I’ll need to be in line for the BioWare presentation – priorities, people!). But I pieced together an interesting schedule that’s got me going from noon through 11:30 that night, with just a long enough break to get into line to get into the Dragon Age room!

However, I started thinking about the implications of gaming in the world of both mental illness and in disabilities.

In August 2011, Game FWD shared a news story about the benefits afforded to older adults that were combating depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Using the Wii, particularly, allowed these adults to enjoy activities they were once able to participate in.

Dr. Patricia Kahlbaugh, associate professor of psychology at Southern Connecticut State University, presented her work at the 2010 Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Scientific Meeting. She revealed the effects of playing Wii on loneliness and mood in elderly individuals, particularly games such as virtual tennis, bowling and golf.

Kahlbaugh explained that recreating the experiences which these older adults previously enjoyed through the video games seemed to allow them to “regain the psychological benefits such activities once afforded them.”

She studied a group of 36 participants of an average age of 82.6 years old, all in general good health. Sixteen were asked to play Nintendo Wii games for an hour a week, while the remaining 12 watched [TV] an hour, over the course of ten weeks. Those who played Wii games reported higher positive moods than the TV-watching group and made such comments as feeling “more a part of things” or feeling “more in” with the younger generation, creating a greater sense of self and purpose.

I’m not going to quote or paraphrase the entire news article for you on here. The article is linked above if anyone wants to see it.

However.

This doesn’t necessarily have to mean that it’s JUST people suffering from diagnosed mental health illnesses, or someone over the age of 80. I will share something I don’t typically share with many: I have “general anxiety disorder, NOS” (Not Otherwise Specified). This, for me, means I tend to perseverate (there’s your vocab word for the day-my spell checker doesn’t even recognize it!) on things – be it my schedule, my finances, errands I need to run, whatever.

Playing video games is a great escape for me, now. (I never, in 10 million years, thought I would say that. Let me breath for just a moment…)  The only thing for me to obsess over is how to get through a particular part of a game, or a certain level.  I don’t have to think about the outside world. I can travel times or realities (or both, if I’m playing Dragon Age or Skyrim or something).

For the few hours I’m gaming I’m not (usually) a mom, I’m (not really) a wife, I’m not cleaning, I’m not thinking about bills, or other day to day stuff. But I’m also not anxious about anything. I’m not having a panic attack, fidgeting, trying to get rid of a headache…. Do I sound like a walking DSM yet?

In my quest to back up my feelings of video games being good for mental health issues, I’ve stumbled upon countless (although admittedly flawed) studies of why they are bad for mental health problems (creating addictive behavior, yadda, yadda, yadda). But then I stumbled upon a website that (gasp!) actually says games are good for mental health problems.

The study came out of the University of Rochester:

The study involved one group of young men who reported playing action video games at least five times a week for the previous year and another group who reported playing no action video games whatsoever during the same time period. The participants averaged 19 to 20 years old. Those who regularly played action video games were able to sort out visual and auditory information coming their way much more efficiently. The gaming group responded substantially faster than the non-video game players at every level of difficulty, while also maintaining just as much precision as their slower counterparts.

Really? Yes. But:

Apparently these results only hold up when playing video games of the violent variety, with names like Call of Duty and Shellshock. It’s not the blood and gore factor that makes the difference; it’s the ability to handle avoiding enemy troops, zombies, or alien invaders rushing at you in an onslaught from all angles and use your skills to take them out before they get you. The fast-paced action and split second timing involved are what hone these skills. Research has shown that playing video games in which you are helping a character achieve a goal does not provide any of the same benefits — other benefits maybe, but not quick decision-making skills.

Okay, well, that’s fair. But what else have I learned from playing video games? I pay more attention to underlying issues within a seemingly small issue. I read people better. I am a more patient problem solver. That last one is probably a big boost to getting past anxiety issues.

The last thing I want to share is an idea that I dug up online called Play It! Say It! I’m not supporting the idea, nor am I against it, but it is something worth thinking about. Play It! Say It! in a nutshell is basically an online counseling service. At least, that’s what it appears to be. It’s accessible via gamer tags and user names for things like the XBox 360 and the PS3.

From their website:

Many people don’t know when or how to go about seeking help when it comes to their mental health – the results can be devastating for individuals, families and friends. We are exploring an idea that links gaming consoles like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with the expertise of online and phone counselors, bringing the help to where people are – in a way that is comfortable, safe and can help develop rapport and trust.

Alright, that’s pretty neat. Kind of. It’s also slightly agoraphobiac. But everyone needs to start somewhere.

Does this mean I think all kids and adults should play countless hours of video games? Absolutely not. Give me a sunny day and a book and a hammock anytime.

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4 thoughts on “Video games aren’t just for playing anymore.

  1. Really great points, and the research really is interesting and adds a lot. If you haven’t yet, check out Able Gamers; their mission is not only making gaming easier for disabled individuals, but helping them discover the joys of gaming and the ways gaming can help. They were at PAX last year and were just excellent to listen to. I find that when I game I get really immersed into the story and characters, so I can momentarily forget I have dishes, correcting, or anything else to do. It’s a respite, and sometimes we need that. I have depression-anxiety disorder, so I can get easily overwhelmed by things to do; therefore, gaming is a way to relax and sit back, then help me collect myself for the next task to do.

  2. bearonthecouch

    Fascinating! Working in education it seems like I’m just supposed to default to the “video games are bad for kids” argument. Everyone looks at me shocked when I point out that I think violent video games are great (within reason, obviously. And for kids older than the ones I teach). But I’ve pointed people to that same study. I think it’s true too about gaming being a very important social lifeline; it definitely works for me. Although, while in Rochester, I definitely saw my fair share of people overplay MMOs to the point of scariness. The key, as in most cases, is balance: game AND go sit on the hammock. Play AND go talk to people IRL (and that’s my issue: I’m just super shy and won’t approach people. Having the screen to hide behind helps me.)

    • I completely agree – balance is the key. It’s the key to being a well-rounded person, which is something that schools strive to ingrain in kids anyway, if I’m right. Having many interests is good – it allows you to connect with different kinds of people.

      I’m like you – I’d like to hide behind my screen to talk to people too, because I’m much better at putting things in writing. I’d prefer to email people about issues than confront them in person, mostly. But I’m also a very social person, so I do well playing things like MMORPGs (think – Guild Wars).

      But the studies of it being good, especially for elderly, didn’t surprise me much, especially when I think of the benefits I have gleaned from it since I started really playing.

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