New Games Turn Focus to Mental Health
> 2/8/2007 12:14:55 PM

Video games, once the subject of much societal concern, have been receiving something of a PR face-lift recently through cycles of positive media coverage of the potential for healthy lifestyle improvements that come from gaming. First, brain training swept through Japan and then the world. Then Konami and the state of West Virginia teamed up and found that gaming wasn't just for out-of-shape, overweight lay-abouts.

Today, Reuters reports on several new ventures that hope to show that video games can help create positive changes in the gaming public's mental health. The University of Rochester, who recently found evidence that games might actually improve eyesight, published a study late in 2006 that discussed the many benefits that gamers receive from their hobby. The researchers even went so far as to state that games' "capacity to engender feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness" might increase psychological wellness.

Some developers and scientists are hoping to move beyond providing these benefits to actually designing games that aim toward improving mental health. One such group comes from McGill University, where Prof. Mark Baldwin has used psychology research as the basis for his game, MindHabits Booster. By challenging gamers to focus on the repetitive task of finding the approving, happy face in a field of unhappy faces, Baldwin hopes to train people to ignore disapproval for friendlier pastures, thereby increasing their own sense of well being.

Although details are less easy to come by, a Japanese game publisher that was spurred on by the success of the DS Brain Training series will release a game entitled DS Therapy this May. The game, which the link notes more accurately translates to "heart aerobics," has been designed with input from psychologists, but still sounds to play more like a game version of a Cosmo quiz.

While this initial DS foray might not represent evidence based practices or provide anything even remotely resembling "therapy," it is still important that game developers have even begun to think of this topic as appropriate. As Prof. Baldwin and other researchers have been proving with empirical evidence, there are a lot of positive effects that can come from video game playing. With older generations now picking up gaming, the time might be right for some intrepid developers to team with these research groups and find a combination that can truly benefit the mental health of even casual gamers.


what i would like to see is games built upon engines like the SIMS, where individuals can enact various social situations to practice different techniques (e.g., reading emotions of others, choosing appropriate discussion topics). I think it would help cognitive-behavioural therapists enhance their repertoire of behavioural experiments. Great for social phobia.
Posted by: Gareth 2/11/2007 7:42:43 AM

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