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How Video Games Might Help Depression & PTSD!

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Sorta transcript:

Two new studies suggest some positive things for those of us who, number one, like video games, and number two, are screwed up in the head. Hi, my name is Rebecca and this is relevant to my interests.

First, a study was just published in Nature showing compelling evidence that the classic game Tetris might be able to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Researchers enlisted the help of 71 volunteers who ended up in a UK hospital following traumatic traffic accidents. While they were still in the hospital, half of the subjects thought about their accident and then played Tetris on a Nintendo DS. The other half kept an activity log as a control.

Over the next week, the people who played Tetris experienced significantly fewer “intrusive thoughts” about their accident and generally felt better than the control group. The Tetris players reported that playing the game was fun and easy, even for older people who had never played before.

The researchers had previously found that Tetris works for things like this because it’s so visually demanding. They compared it to games like Pub Quiz and found that verbal games still allowed people to form rich, visual memories of what had just happened to them, while Tetris makes it impossible for people to imagine and relive the traumatic event.

This is just early research involving a very small group of people, so more studies will need to be done to see how far-reaching the results might be. But if they hold up, it could be a great tool for hospitals to have on hand to rather easily help prevent PTSD before it really happens.

Also this week, California researchers published a study suggesting that video games might help in treating depression. Unlike the headlines I’ve read about this study, I’ll put the big caveat up front: they used very specific “brain training” app games, not just Call of Duty or whatever, and they didn’t study whether or not the games actually reduced the subjects’ depression.

What they did find was that the subjects were very likely to keep using the apps when they got message alerts, and they were also more likely to feel as though they had control over their depression, particularly when the alerts emphasized the fact that depression was an internal issue that could be corrected by “brain training.”

The researchers found that prompts suggesting depression is external, like due to your crappy job or your dog dying, made people likely to play the games for longer but to not really give them the long-term benefit of the “internal” group. That might translate to some bad news — spending hours playing Call of Duty because you’re depressed isn’t necessarily going to help you at all. The real benefit is only from the belief that you’re actively bettering yourself from the inside out, giving you control over something that previously may have made you feel helpless.

Again, this is preliminary research that ties into a whole bunch of other studies on the benefits of these types of apps. But it is exciting that we live in a time when we’re no longer just dismissing video games as possible brain-destroyers and are now actively exploring the potential of a powerful, interactive medium. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to train my brain…to kill people in Overwatch.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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1 Comment

  1. March 31, 2017 at 6:41 pm —

    Funny, that paragraph with the dog dying reminded me:
    When our 2 dogs died recently we were heartbroken and I was watching the DVD set of “Daria” (it actually helped cheer me up quite a bit).

    The last episode of Season 1 “The Misery Chick” was very apt and vaguely related to the topic here. Everybody was bummed out over the death of great fooball douchebag Tommy Sherman, and going to Daria for advice.

    Sandi: My cat OD’d on my makeup and spent the whole day puking. I feel sad.
    Daria: Due to demand I need to charge a small payment for my services.
    Sandi (hands over 10 bucks and Daria starts to walk away): Well?
    Daria: What is the animals name?
    Sandi: Fluffy
    (Daria starts to walk away again)
    Sandi: What’s your advice then?
    Daria: Find some other way to feel.
    Sandi: (growing mad, then suddenly the penny drops that she is not sad anymore): Oh…thanks!

    Of course, as Daria explains, she’s not miserable, she’s just not like them. She’s a hard core skeptic and realist. I’m a big fan and certain that many of us here would identify with her character in some way.

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