The Growth and Healing Powers of Video Games

The Growth and Healing Powers of Video Games

Many people have preconceptions that portray video gamers as being lazy and asocial. However, they don’t seem to understand the potential healing and growth powers of video games.  In Jane McGonigal’s new book, SuperBetter, she looks exactly at these areas of potential. McGonigal suffered a brain injury a couple of years ago, and instead of wallowing in her recovery process, she made a game out of it. She tried to find “allies” to help her healing and gave herself “power-ups” when she achieved her goals, all while putting on a secret persona in order to fight her monsters and work towards self-betterment.

McGonigal claims that the “gamification” of everyday tasks can do numerous things for people’s mental health. She developed a personal system of gamification for her own rehabilitation, but in her book, she adapted it to more than that. Her strategy can help people hone a new skill, can aid in the conquering of a difficult life challenge (such as a divorce or lay-off), and can even be used in professional fields (like Human Resources and therapy). To easier integrate her seven-step process into everyday life, she also created a free app for Apple and Android users to play.

Although McGonigal’s book says a lot about personal growth, her focus on video game-healing is not a new notion. There have been many studies on the healing effects of video games. One of the more well-known examples of this is in patients with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Multiple research studies have been conducted on how playing Tetris reduces the frequency of flashbacks after being exposed to traumatic stimulus. Because the sensory networks of the brain can only carry so much information, the visual attention and visual memory that Tetris requires competes with the incoming data of the traumatic catalyst for PTSD patients.

Image Source
Image source

Games like World of Warcraft, and Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) video games as a whole, can also help with an individual’s social growth. In many of these MMOs, tasks cannot be carried out by oneself, thus socialization is required by players.  There are numerous examples that show how people who outside of the game exhibit anxiety and asocial behavior have banded together in a virtual world to complete quests and work collectively. Leveling up, competing in battles, and trading all require aid from other players.

A new emerging technology is virtual reality. Many major tech companies are working on a virtual reality headset: Oculus Rift by Facebook, Project Morpheus by Sony. At the cusp of being more readily usable by the consumer, these reality helmets immerse the player into a game. I was able to try a virtual reality meditation game, SoundSelf (a game that combines meditation techniques with visual and auditory information controlled by the user), on an Oculus Rift at a convention a few years back, and I was amazed at its calming capabilities; I almost fell asleep with the mask on! In short, the headset is hooked up to a microphone and headphones, and any noise put into the microphone is reflected in the flowing lights and ambient sounds of the Oculus Rift, putting the user in a trance-like state. Numerous studies have been made connecting meditation to mental health, and the capabilities of these immersive technologies are only at their inception. It seems difficult to foresee a stop in the healing properties of virtual reality, when some have already been found, and the headsets are so new to the market.

Image source
From Oculus Rift

In a less direct, but just as impactful route, video games are used as a way to heal through charity. Millions of dollars are raised every year by gamers to help people with mental and physical health issues. Some of the major charities involved in the gaming community are Extra Life, Humble Bundle, and Child’s Play Charity. These charities believe in the healing power of video games. With Extra Life, any money made goes directly to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital of the donator’s choosing. Humble Bundle is a platform in which to buy games, and a certain percentage of their pay-what-you-want model goes to the charity of your choosing. Child’s Play is a bit different, in that any money raised goes directly to buying both board and video games for children in hospitals. Many YouTube personalities and Twitch livestreamers raise money for these charities. Just this year, Games Done Quick, a video game marathon hosted by, raised $1,233,844.10 in only one week for Doctors Without Borders.

Logos of Extra Life, Humble Bundle, and Child's Play Charity
Logos of Extra Life, Humble Bundle, and Child’s Play Charity

In all of these senses, video games have continually been a great help to the health of people of all shapes and sizes. From creating a game out of real life, to the total immersion into another reality, games are a way to heal and grow.


Jeremy Zhen


01. Andrew Birkett

Great article!

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