Can gaming & VR help you with combatting traumatic experiences? The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community. The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Can gaming & VR help you with combatting traumatic experiences?
Trauma affects a great many people in a variety of ways, some suffer from deep-seated trauma such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by war or abuse. And others suffer from anxiety and phobias caused by traumatic experiences such as an accident, a loss an attack.
Each needs its own unique and tailored regime to lessen the effects and to aid the individuals in regaining some normalcy to their lives. Often these customized treatments are very expensive and difficult to obtain.
In the world of ubiquitous technology and an ever-increasing speed in visual-based treatments, these personalized therapies are becoming more accessible to the average sufferer.
What I would like to do is take you through some of the beneficial effects that gaming and VR can have on those suffering from trauma, what these treatments sometimes look like and what the pitfalls can be when using them.
I am not a specialist in psychology or trauma treatment, but I feel that increasing awareness of what is out there is beneficial to everyone, and perhaps can help those suffering from trauma to take the first step in seeking help.
Games & VR as a positive mental activity
To date, a few studies have been done on the effectiveness of gaming and virtual reality gaming in therapeutic treatments. But due to the brief history of both, a lengthy study has yet to be completed. But the one thing that we can be sure of is the first-hand accounts of those that have experienced the benefit of these experiences.
A very basic exercise for those suffering from trauma is to engage in mindfulness or meditation exercises. Meditation guided through a VR system can have very positive effects on an individual’s disposition. Due to the immersive nature of VR, you can let yourself fall away into another world and detach yourself from the real world. It is as though you are “experiencing a virtual Zen garden” dedicated entirely to you.
This effect of letting go and identifying with an external locus is probably one of the most effective attributes of gaming and VR. It is the act of not focusing on yourself, on the memories and cues that cause the underlying trauma, but focusing on and engaging with another character, an avatar, on-screen who for all intents and purposes has led and now leads (through you) another life. This character has its own sense of agency to complete a quest or goal, totally independent from you.
The most effective way that games allow you to let go to offer you a challenge that requires your entire focus. And to enhance this, most games offer group challenges. These are two core drivers in improving positive emotions, personal empowerment, and social relatedness. With individuals who suffer from either PTSD or other deep trauma’s, being given a vehicle that allows easier connections with others helps them to cope with their own trauma’s much better. It takes their mind off what is troubling them and through repetition can even lead to a lessening of symptoms.
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For a more behind the scenes look at how this manifests in practice, check out this PBS Frontline documentary. Master Sgt. Robert Butler, a Marine combat cameraman, recounts his struggle with PTSD and how Virtual Iraq helped.