Can Video Games Combat Mental Illness Stigma?
Provided by Intel
Games tackle psychological distress with narratives that ease anxiety and help players develop coping mechanisms.
Mental illness is a complex, nuanced subject that many forms of entertainment have tried to faithfully portray. Movies such as Silver Linings Playbook and TV series like Showtime’ Homeland have succeeded to varying degrees, but many attempts fall into clichés that perpetuate misinformation.
Despite some mishaps like Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, where those who suffer from mental illness are seen as defective, video games are a powerful vehicle for exploring this topic in a new and enlightening ways.
“The challenge games face in regard to the mental health discussion is how to bring these issues to light without falling into the common traps,” Patrick Lindsey wrote in a 2014 opinion piece for Polygon, noting that horror games tend to be the guiltiest of misrepresentation.
“Mental illness is horrifying for those who suffer, and it can drastically affect one’s perception of the world, but to focus solely on the spooky and the irrational is to only tell half the story.”
Because players adopt the perspective of the game’s characters, they experience the symptoms and thinking patterns of different mental illnesses firsthand. This gameplay method could help increase understanding and empathy when done well.
“Video games in particular have the uniquely awesome power to virtually place you directly in the shoes of another person, creating incredible opportunities to educate, raise awareness and build empathy around topics like various psychiatric conditions,” said Erin Reynolds, creative director for the horror adventure game Nevermind.
Researchers have found promising leads when using video games to treat individuals suffering from illnesses like PTSD. Through a method called “exposure therapy,” virtual reality games help patients with anxiety and phobias address their symptoms in safe, controlled virtual environments.
By understanding the link between video games and mental illness, experts can help patients develop coping mechanisms.
Games like Nevermind take a different, yet equally ambitious approach to addressing mental health issues. It uses optional biofeedback technology to help players manage their fear and anxiety response to the scary scenarios in the game.