Writing for Australia’s PC Authority, Chris Button looks at the many ways Australian gamers are using games to benefit their mental well-being, formally and informally.
Looking at the former, Button tells the stories of people like Keira, a 30-year-old Queenslander who is receiving therapy for PTSD and bipolar disorder.
“My therapist is also a gamer so we connected through a mutual love of video games. I completed a program called DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) which teaches you a number of techniques to ‘ride through’ an active suicidal urge,” Keira said.
When she is struggling, she will contact her therapy team and play a puzzle game…for an agreed period of time. Once this time has passed, either Keira or the therapy team will call back to check in and follow-up where necessary. Keeping her thoughts in the present is one of the benefits video games give Keira. Watching Twitch and YouTube Let’s Plays, and Good Game Pocket help too, as she also manages arthritis which sometimes limits her ability to play.
Button’s personal experience may be more broadly relatable, though: playing games not as a treatment but as a way of getting through tough moments.
Video games were a reliable source of solace from my mind’s constant vitriol, especially Rogue Legacy: a roguelike 2D platformer where you play as a character fighting through a castle to reclaim what’s rightfully theirs. However, the game is brutally difficult early on. You will die many times. The quirk is that upon death, you then play through again as the character’s successor and use the treasure accumulated on the previous run to upgrade the successor’s powers. Each character has different skills – sometimes detrimental to progress – and the layout of the castle changes every run, so the game never allows you settle into a comfortable rhythm. It forced me to focus my concentration on defeating tough enemies and navigating treacherous dungeons, which restricted my mind’s ability to focus on my anxiety.
Playing Rogue Legacy and other games was a fantastic way to unwind from a day filled with worries and stresses. Eventually I had to step away from full-time work due to anxiety. During my low points I would sit on the floor at home, paralysed by my own thoughts, and dwell on how much of a monumental failure and disappointment I must be to my family, friends and colleagues. These moments still happen every now and then. It was during one of these times that my beautiful girlfriend used Rogue Legacy and the roguelike genre as an analogy for what I was going through, having experienced mental illness herself. She pointed out that it is a difficult and scary journey, one that is filled with many unknowns. Sometimes you will make significant progress and feel good about yourself, only to stumble and feel like you’re back at the start of the dungeon. But there will always be progress. It may be defeating one enemy, or clearing five rooms of treasure – which in the real world translates to getting out of bed, or seeing a psychologist – but it is important to acknowledge each success, regardless of its size. Pressing start on the menu, or getting up in the morning, is all it takes to start the healing process.
Button also looks at Australian organizations and individuals striving to make the mental health benefits of games more widely understood, and some of the reasons that can be such an uphill battle. It’s a great read, so be sure to check out the full article.