Friday, January 9, 2009

Games as Therapy

There's a lot of reasons I got into gaming. I think they can be fun, beautiful, engaging, and tell rich, complex stories that could not be told in any other medium. Though, rather than wax flowery about how games can be art, allow me to pontificate on another, more personal reason for loving games; they're therapeutic.

We live in stressful times (granted I'm not sure I can name a time that wasn't stressful), and I've found that nothing makes me forget about my problems like a videogame. For example, recently I went through a rather upsetting situation involving a girl that I'd prefer not to get into right now, suffice to say that I found myself constantly worrying about it. I was losing sleep, appetite, the will to shave, etc... I was basically going through the third act of any romantic comedy where some contrived plot point prevents the two lovebirds from getting together. Not fun.

So after god knows how many hours wasted, doing nothing, I summoned the will to turn on my Xbox 360 and queue up Fallout 3, which I hadn't played in at least a couple weeks. And man, oh man, did it provide the solace I needed.

Suddenly, all that mattered anymore was scouring the wasteland, seeking adventure and finding interesting things. In this time, I found a dog, a makeshift raider strip club, the remnants of a fallen Chinese radio tower, an overt H.P. Lovecraft reference, broke into a cannibal's secret basement, launched a payload from a satellite, and stumbled upon a cult worshiping a talking tree. There's more, for sure, but I wouldn't want to give away too much, and fear I may have said too much already. The point is, I was so entranced by my virtual adventure that my meager brain could nary focus on anything else. And when you're trying to wait something out, this can be a very good thing.

Fallout 3 is just one example though, and perhaps not even the best. Take racing games, for example. They're far from my favorite genre, but in a racing game there is one thing, and one thing only that matters; getting to the finish line. A challenging racing game requires such a great level of concentration that your mind cannot process much else. It's rather hypnotic (even if it creates an all new, and in my mind, more fun kind of stress. Hence why lots of people are prone to throwing controllers. I, however, am not one of them).

I should point out that I do not condone poopsocking (which I'm pretty sure is just an urban legend... I hope), or otherwise staying in a game at all times as a means of escaping reality. The non-virtual world is far too awesome for that. Though for the rare times when it is not so awesome, I can't think of a better way to spend the day than in front of the tube, controller in hand.

Note: Has anyone actually done any studies on this? With all the negative media coverage about videogames being violent or otherwise causing people to neglect their biological needs, you'd think someone would look into any potential psychological benefits they provide.


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