Can video games be therapeutic?

Psychologists say video games could be a cure for depression

Video games do not enjoy the best reputation: Especially so-called "shooting games" are often criticized because they are said to increase aggressiveness and have a high potential for addiction. But even harmless games like Tetris or Super Mario do not go down well with everyone - parents in particular are concerned about their children and want them to spend as little time as possible playing video games and instead do other things. Perhaps completely wrong. More and more researchers assume that video games can help children, adolescents and the elderly to cope with mental illness.

This should include classics like Tetris, popular shooters like Unreal Tournament, but also video games like Nevermind or Elude, which were explicitly developed as therapeutic measures.

Biofeedback helps patients control their emotions

Conventional psychotherapies do not always work in the case of depression or comparable illnesses, and adolescents do not always want to get involved in therapy in the first place. While they may find it difficult to confide in other people, they like to process their feelings with the help of video games. "Video games can be a good initial experience with therapeutic methods," explains Christiane Eichenberg, professor of psychosomatics at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna, the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". In Nevermind, which was conceived as a therapy game by the developer Erin Reyonolds, the player is supposed to slip into the role of a traumatized patient in order to come to terms with his past in a surreal dream world - and to subject himself to a healing process.

Games should be used in conjunction with therapy and should not replace them

Games without a specific healing intention, such as Tetris, can also help patients process events or improve their skills. Several studies have shown that video games can have a positive effect not only on the brain, but also on behavior towards others.

"Compared to children who do not play, those who spend about a third of their free time playing video games have more prosocial behavior and life satisfaction, as well as fewer behavioral and social problems and emotional insecurity," said Andrew K. Przybylski of Oxford -University.

It is not always advisable to play games like Nevermind alone without instruction. Reynolds warns that playing this type of game could overwhelm some people - making existing problems worse.

Younger players in particular should not play such games as the sole therapy, but rather as an accompaniment to inpatient therapy. One of the reasons for this is that younger players often tend to click their way through games without reading everything. In addition, it is better if the children do not know that it is a therapy-accompanying measure - without this notice the players would be far better received by the children, so the resulting successes are also greater. However, it is important that the children can identify with the main character.

Further studies are necessary to confirm the therapeutic success

However, so far there have been few studies of the positive effects of video games on the mentally ill. "Evaluations are expensive, so developers often do without them," says Eichenberg. The chances are good that something could change soon. A survey is said to have shown that 90 percent of psychotherapists could imagine using video games as a therapy method. This new therapeutic approach should not fail because of the enthusiasm of patients for video games - almost a third of the world's population is said to play video games regularly.