Here at Take This, we try to take care not to overstate the therapeutic value of video games. They can give us perspective, comfort, social connections and a lot more, and there’s no understating how much of a difference that can make for individuals in difficult times, but they don’t replace therapy and self-care on their own.
Over at VICE, games industry photographer and podcaster Gareth Dutton explores his own ambivalence toward treating games’ ability to heal with too much reverence.
I don’t think I should stop playing video games, but I feel like, as consumers, as writers, we take them too seriously. In our frantic attempts to legitimize the hobby to everyone else, we push it too far. There are countless pieces on how video games make more money than every other industry ever, and how if you laid all the $20 bills used to purchase Call of Duty end to end, they’d stretch to Saturn and back. Any game with even a whiff of artistic integrity gets held up as a poster boy for video games as art. We freak out over 2D platformers making rudimentary attempts at portraying a theme beyond “shoot this lad’s mouth off.” Why are we so desperate to prove ourselves to “non-gamers”?
Most of these trends are largely harmless, but I worry about writing that positions games as a panacea for mental and emotional issues. When writing about games as an ally against the forces of mental illness, we need to be more careful.
Dutton relates his tale of how video games–specifically, Street Fighter V–helped him through a difficult time after the birth of his daughter, but he takes care to point out that it was one distraction among several, and not a cure for all his woes.
That’s not to say that video games can’t have a profoundly positive effect on people. Many of us have our own stories that say otherwise. But Dutton’s piece serves as a good reminder that we don’t need to convince anyone that games are good for us. We can share, celebrate and own our stories without trying to position games as anything they’re not. Games can stand on their own, as entertainment, as art, and as tools in a much larger therapeutic toolbox.