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Press Start to Heal: The Revolutionary Role of Video Games in Managing PTSD, Stress, and Beyond

Table of contents:


  • The challenges in treating conditions like PTSD, depression, and cognitive impairment.
  • The limitations of traditional therapies and the insufficient public resources for treatment.

Changing Perception of Video Games:

  • Video games have evolved beyond just teenage entertainment.
  • Retired athletes use sports simulators and boosting to enhance their gaming experience.

Health Games and Therapeutic Potential:

  • The contrasting opinions on the impact of computer games on mental health.
  • The perspective of specialists who view games as a potential form of therapy.

Tetris Therapy for PTSD:

  • The prevalence of PTSD and the need for more accessible treatment options.
  • The Tetris therapy approach studied by Emily Holmes, involves playing Tetris after recalling painful memories.
  • The study’s findings show a reduction in flashbacks and unpleasant memories among participants.

Mechanism Behind Tetris Therapy:

  • The theory is that Tetris and flashbacks use the same visual areas of the brain.
  • Playing Tetris competes for cognitive resources, preventing flashbacks from resurfacing.

Video Games for Cancer Patients:

  • The creation of a video game for cancer patients, where the player’s role is to fight the disease within the game.
  • The positive impact on distraction, positivity, and will win for both children and adults.

Games Teaching Self-Regulation:

  • The use of games in medical contexts, such as managing hypertension, neurosis, and heart issues.
  • How these games help individuals learn self-regulation and relaxation techniques.
  • The concept of heart rate-based rewards for kids with mental issues and social skills challenges.

Gaming’s Prospects in Medicine:

  • The potential of games and virtual reality in healthcare.
  • The connection between gaming techniques and treating mental diseases, autonomic abnormalities, and cognitive/motor skills.
  • The need to determine optimal gaming loads and appropriate patient populations for game-based therapy.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and cognitive impairment are difficult to treat. Sometimes it is not amenable to therapy at all, and living with PTSD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is not easy. Depressive states, with all the prevalence of medications, also require significant mental work, and better – with the help of a psychotherapist. 

But public resources for treatment are not enough. The same participants in hostilities or victims of terrorist attacks have been experiencing difficult events for years and decades, unable to get rid of the consequences. Today, however, it turns out that in addition to traditional medicines and psychotherapy, new methods are emerging. In this article, we will talk about these methods.

We are used to the fact that games are associated with teenagers who can’t stop playing their favorite shooter. But games have long become something more. For example, many athletes who retired from sports for various reasons (for example, due to injury) can play sports simulators, such as FIFA 23. Not all of them can immediately play well due to little experience in computer games, so players often use a special site to boost their game accounts. Gamers use boosting to make playing easier and more enjoyable.

Health Games: How They Fight Disease

There is a fairly strong opinion that computer games are the road to mental disorders. On the opposite pole from those who are confident in the dangers of computer games, some specialists consider computer games as a method of therapy with great therapeutic potential.

Tetris instead of virtual reality: how does it work?

Although at the moment there are developed and effective treatment regimens for PTSD, the prevalence of the disorder is high, and there are not enough resources for psychological assistance for everyone, even in those states where the system of psychological services is well developed. 

Therefore, the goal of specialists was to search for affordable and cheap methods that can alleviate symptoms. And as it turned out, there is a solution: computer games. Emily Holmes, a professor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, has identified the impact of playing Tetris on a person’s emotional state. For example, if healthy people who have just watched a horror movie are forced to play immediately after watching, they forget the shocking pictures. 

In a new study, Tetris therapy has already been tested on patients with PTSD. In the process, people were asked to write down their most painful memories on paper, and immediately after recording, play Tetris for 25 minutes. To keep track of flashbacks, and obsessive scenes popping up in their memory, the participants in the experiment kept a diary. After a few weeks, 16 out of 20 participants noted that the number of flashbacks was significantly reduced, by 64%. Moreover, it was precisely those scenes that patients recorded before playing Tetris that began to disappear. The number of occurrences of other unpleasant memories decreased by 11%. 

“Anyone can experience trauma,” remarked Emily Holmes, the lead researcher of the study and a psychology professor at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet. Developing basic behavioral interventions with computer games could significantly help many by preventing post-traumatic distress and sparing them from distressing intrusive memories.

Why does it work? The full mechanism of therapy is still unclear, but there is a fairly plausible theory that flashbacks and games use the same visual areas of the brain. These areas are activated by involuntary memory obsession, and during the game, Tetris takes away the resource from these areas and does not allow the flashback to return. If you do this regularly, then the neutron bonds disappear, in which the visual images of memories are encrypted. Although this study was the first and not large enough, its value cannot be overlooked. And even though you can’t build a full-fledged PTSD therapy on Tetris games, everyone can check the effect on themselves. It’s free, safe, and scientists say it can help.

Video games for people with cancer 

A large team of volunteer programmers, animators, doctors, and psychologists created a video game for cancer patients. In general, this is a fairly standard shooter, but the enemy in it is a disease. On the side of the patient, the nanorobot Roxy acts, which travels through the body and destroys cancer cells. The game is mainly intended for children, although adults are also addicted to it. It helps not only to distract from experiences but also to fix the idea of a positive development of the situation, to support the will to win. Today, about 100 thousand patients have played it already.

Games that teach self-regulation

Games are used against hypertension, neurosis, ischemia of the heart muscle, and peptic ulcer. They help to learn the regulation of autonomic functions, such as heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc. The key is the skill of self-regulation and relaxation in stressful situations. Games that foster focus have been developed for kids with a range of mental problems and issues with social skills. The child is put on a heart rate sensor, and the calmer and closer to the norm the rhythm, the more virtual bonuses the computer gives out. Thus, the connection between self-control and success is fixed, and regulation becomes automatic. The duration of play therapy is calculated individually, on average, 20-40 sessions are needed, but sometimes more, until a positive experience is consolidated.

It is already obvious that various types of games and virtual reality not only have great prospects for medicine but are also becoming part of healthcare. There is a connection between gaming techniques and the treatment of mental diseases, autonomic system abnormalities, and cognitive and motor skills in both adolescent and adult patients. The main task today is to understand what loads will be optimal, and which patients can be prescribed such therapy, so as not to cause the negative aspects of passion for games.

We can say that playing games can have a good effect on people if they play games for a limited amount of time, without sacrificing sleep, self-development, and communication with other people. 

In conclusion, this exploration sheds light on the transformative potential of video games in addressing complex mental health challenges. As traditional treatments often fall short in managing conditions like PTSD, depression, and cognitive impairment, innovative approaches are essential. By harnessing the therapeutic power of gaming, such as Tetris therapy, cancer-fighting games, and self-regulation training, we glimpse a future where games become an integral part of healthcare, aiding in the treatment of various mental diseases and fostering cognitive and motor skills. Games can help manage stress, PTSD symptoms, and mental problems.

Image by Anton Porsche from Pexels

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