Video Game Therapy: Fighting My Battles with a Controller

I grew up as a very anxious child. I had a wonderful childhood, but for some reason I was just predisposed to being an anxious mess. I remember spending a lot of time panicking in the nurse’s office throughout elementary and middle school but I don’t think I really understood what was happening until I got into high school. When I did realize what was going on, I was afraid that I would have to be medicated if I wanted to be in control again. In the midst of trying to find alternatives help me feel normal, I found something that I had already been enjoying for most of my life.

Despite raising three girls, I grew up with awesome parents that didn’t believe in the “only boys play video games” bullshit. Not only that, but my dad’s job occasionally consisted of bringing home video games from companies that didn’t need them anymore. One of my earliest gaming memories is playing Super Mario Bros. on an arcade cabinet in my own basement, though the motherboard is broken these days and the cabinet now plays B. Rap Boys, the unwanted step-child of beat ’em up games. Don’t get me wrong, any game where you get to punch lions directly in the face HAS to be good but it definitely lacks the nostalgia of its older, much more successful predecessor.

b-rap-boys

Just look at the cover art. This game SCREAMS success.

So games have been and still are a large part of my life, but I didn’t realize that video games could be a coping method until my junior year of high school. My body had started to feel the effects of years worth of anxiety and I was sick pretty frequently with little explanation from doctors as to why. Being sick just induced more anxiety which led to more illness. It was after a rough day of blood tests that I was introduced to Minecraft, a multiplayer sandbox game based on crafting and creating. I had figured it was just a kid’s game judging by the friendly 8-bit graphics. But a few minutes of play time melted into a few hours of total absorption and when I stopped, it occurred to me that I hadn’t thought about being sick once. In fact, I hadn’t thought about any of the things that made me anxious.

I think that there’s always been a stigma about video games being a waste of time. A few years ago, my mom explained to me that she didn’t see the point in them. “It just feels like a wasted day, there’s nothing productive about it.”

This seems to be a pretty common view among frustrated mothers, wives, and girlfriends (and yes I’m stereotyping here because video games have traditionally been marketed to boys for stupid reasons that you can learn about here). But if we think about gaming in the big picture, it starts to look much less like a waste of time. Let me take you through a couple of examples of how gaming is quite literally changing lives for the better.

Just a quick Google search of “video game therapy” brings up a plethora of results. One that immediately struck me was an article on the use of video games to help treat PTSD. Of all games, the ever-timeless Tetris has been used to disrupt the flashback triggers of PTSD patients. Another search brought up an article regarding the development of games that could help people with autism spectrum disorder practice socialization in the safe space of a virtual world. My boyfriend recently told me about the use of virtual reality for pain control in burn victims. If that shit doesn’t absolutely blow your mind I don’t know what does. Not to mention the number of studies done on video games like Minecraft being used as effective educational tools. And I feel like we haven’t even seen the beginning of what games can do.

minecraftt

Alright kids time to learn about pigs and wolves and whateverthefuck that walking cactus is!

I can’t say that I’ve had to use gaming for PTSD or a learning disorder, but video games have been wonderful way to take a break from myself. And trust me, I frequently need breaks from myself. When you’re lost in your own head as much as I am, being able to get out of your thoughts and into some other adventure is a blessing. I think that’s why I can’t just relax and enjoy a lot of competitive online games these days. I still have to be mentally present as Brie and interact with people as Brie. And being Brie is just not as fun as being Link or Samus or literally anybody else.

I love watching people lose themselves in games. I love watching people create and problem solve. I love watching guys play as strong females and girls play as kick ass dudes. I love watching people laugh off ridiculous jump scares or get emotional when a story line strikes a nerve. I love that virtual reality is giving people with disabilities the chance to immerse themselves in the impossible. Games are connecting and healing and doing so many good things. How can something designed to bring joy be considered unproductive?

I still use video games as a coping mechanism today. Though I don’t have a ton of time to play anymore, I often find myself watching other people play  games on YouTube or Twitch. Whenever I’m sick or lonely or restless, I put on playthroughs of Zelda or even Bloodborne to get myself out of my own head and in a better place. To some, it’s a waste of time. To me, it’s coping.

Obviously there’s a line to be drawn somewhere down the road. Once gaming becomes more of your life than reality, that’s when the coping becomes unhealthy. But otherwise, enjoy your video games. Build a house, punch a lion, crush some candy, whatever. Give yourself a break from you. You won’t realize how much you needed it until you do.

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