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Video Games as Therapy: Playing to Heal

by Wellness Interactive Branding, LLC.

Who Can it Help?

Playing video games for a therapeutic purpose is pretty new to the health and wellness community.  The full benefits are not yet known, but as research continues, the populations of people that could potentially benefit are bound to grow.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

One of the latest studies through the University of Oxford in the UK utilized the game Tetris at a hospital emergency room for victims of vehicle accidents. They found that the colors, shapes, and direct and formulaic movements were very absorbing for the patients, and that the visually demanding tasks helped to block the memory of the trauma from being stored in an “overly vivid way.”

Two smaller studies with Tetris hinted at being able to distract people from cravings (sweets, drinks, etc.) and the other utilized the game to help with “lazy eye” or amblyopia.

Many veterans are also turning to video games to help with PTSD, as well as for helping to recover from physical traumas. Examples include using controllers to help improve hand movements and using Wii games for balance.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

The health and wellness community is also trying lots of techniques to help out children who have been diagnosed with ADHD without medication. Now these are not just any video games, they are ones developed to help increase the ability to focus and improve attention spans.

Another recent study at the University of California at San Francisco had impressive results after cognitive training with nearly one-third of the children showing such improvements that they no longer met the criteria for the diagnosis! These educational video games could be real launching pad for the future of the treatment of kids with ADHD.


John’s Hopkins School of Medicine is also getting into the game! In treating patients who have suffered from a stroke, a recent study has shown that the robotic arm and a particular video game designed by engineers, neurologists, and artists is helping patients with stimulation for brain recovery and improved quality of life.   

The new technology continues to evolve, but the preliminary information on the benefits is very promising.  Next up for these developers — virtual reality games too! Other health practitioners are getting into the field of virtual reality in helping individuals with swallowing problems due to esophageal cancer, stroke, or other brain injuries.

Cerebral Palsy (CP)

As the most common childhood physical disability in the world, individuals with CP are the subjects of much research, and video games are no exception. “Serious games” are in rapid growth and are designed, like others mentioned in this article to help with both physical and mental health.

Home gaming systems are now available for families that can be played by children with CP with or without hand impairment. With specially-designed controls, these systems have games that are accessible — and fun!  So far, the games have helped to promote interaction and conversation, as well as hand control.

Depression and Anxiety

Video games also have the ability to help with depression and anxiety. It is important, though, if you or a family member has either of these, to be mindful of the types of games you choose to play. Sometimes, the online multiplayer games can help with communications skills, as long as the content of the game is not detrimental to personal psychological health.


Colorful games with specific and fairly simple tasks, such as Tetris, can help with focus and relieve anxiety for a number of individuals. But as with anything, it is important to play in moderation and maintain a balance in life away from the video games.


Game designers are also coming up with award-winning games that assist with awareness of depression, helping not only people who have depression to understand they are not alone, but also to promote understanding of the illness to those who do not have it. From dynamic interactive fiction games to simple tasks that are fun, rewarding, and relaxing, there are a variety of options out there for all types of gamers.

Looking Ahead

It is hard to know exactly what the future holds regarding video game therapy. As with other types of techniques that have the potential to be beneficial, the test of time will unfold the new realities. But the new studies with PTSD, with stroke victims and more — are promising! We are going to have to stay tuned to see what comes next and who else may be able to be helped by playing video games. But one thing is for certain — the popularity of video games is not going away any time soon.

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