Welcome to my blog, a place to explore and learn about the experience of running a psychiatric practice. I post about things that I find useful to know or think about. So, enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Video Games-Could They Make You Feel Worse?

A NY Times article, Video Games Could Be Good For Your Mind, writes about a recent study In Psychological Science, Computer Game Play Reduces Intrusive Memories of Experimental Trauma via Reconsolidation-Update Mechanisms, in which subjects were shown a movie with disturbing scenes. The next day, some subjects were asked to play Tetris, some were shown stills of the movie, some were shown stills and then asked to play Tetris, and some did nothing.

The ones who looked at stills and then played “Tetris” had fewer intrusive memories about the movie over the next seven days than the other groups...bringing back the memories via film stills made them vulnerable to change — and Tetris appears to have done the work of changing them.

 [The authors] believe that keeping track of the colored blocks in Tetris “disrupted aspects of the visual memory from being ‘re-laid down’ in the sensory part of the brain.”

There are obvious difficulties with a study like this, such as the fact that it doesn't address real life trauma. But I'm more interested in something else the Times article mentioned, namely, video games currently on the market that directly address mental health conditions.

One such game is, Elude, which is supposed to simulate depression, to help educate friends and family members of a depressed person. Your character wanders in a grim-looking forest, jumping from one branch to another. Sometimes his depression lifts and he's in the sky, like froggy jump, picking up leaves and daisies. Sometimes he sinks into a quagmire of depression. I didn't get that far when I played, but the description of the game seems to indicate that in that stage, the character has less control than usual, and can't just jump out of the muck into which he's sinking.

It's a metaphor for depression, and the music is upsetting, but ultimately, it's just a standard video game with miserable atmospherics. I don't know if it would help someone who's never been depressed understand much about what depression feels like, but it would probably put him or her into a bad mood.

Personally, I think the best metaphor for depression are the Dementors in the Harry Potter books. Foul creatures who live on the misery of others, they will literally suck out your soul if given the chance. The paralyze you, make you relive your worst memories, and feel as though you'll never be happy again, and more broadly, like all happiness has gone from the world. Instant depression.

Another game is Depression Quest, "...an interactive fiction game where you play as someone living with depression. You are given a series of everyday life events and have to attempt to manage your illness, relationships, job, and possible treatment. This game aims to show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people."

You can pay what you want, or play for free, and a portion of the proceeds go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The music is even more depressing than elude's, and I would worry about someone who is moderately depressed sitting down to play this game.

Here's an excerpt from the first decision-making point:

Notice that the non-depressed option isn't even available to you at this stage.

There are all kinds of sympathetic remarks and disclaimers at the beginning of the game, but I have concerns about some depressed teenager searching online for solace and finding this.

On the flip side, a Playstation game like Flower (not mentioned in the Times article) is not intended to treat or even address depression, but I can see where it might help temporarily lift the mood of someone who isn't too seriously depressed. You play a flower petal drifting about through lovely landscapes:

Then there's Sym, a game, "...designed to help players understand how someone with social anxiety feels."

.Sym is a platform puzzle adventure that takes shyness and social anxiety as its theme...

Sym centers on a 2D character called Josh, who exists in two worlds. There is an above ground that is colored white. It is the real world. There is also an upside-down below ground, a negative, that represents Josh's internal landscape.

Puzzles are solved by making use of both worlds, though the levels are not always single-laned, and there is often a progression choice between both plains. The world is full of eyeballs watching Josh's actions. Words appear that draw obvious as well as cryptic allusions to the game's theme.'

I found Sym to be the most disturbing, yet simultaneously, the most energetic of the bunch, with phrases like, "If I could simply die," and, "I am in control...or am I?", as well as some cryptic biblical quotes.

I don't know what to make of these games. What do you think?


  1. I got Metal Gear Solid for the PS2/3 and had to stop playing.

    After getting realistically shot several hundred times - I thought I was getting PTSD.

    1. Compared to the games of my adolescence, the graphics today are stunning, and unfortunately realistic. whatever happened to getting a frog across a road?