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Therapeutic Gaming

Come with me if you want to live…or escape or suppress an existential crisis.

Shrek: Ogres are like PS5s…

Donkey: You don’t know when they are going to arrive?

Shrek: Yes-No!

Donkey: Even after a couple of years of explaining people still haven’t got you?

Shrek: No…

Donkey: …another example of failure to launch and you cost more now than you did originally?

Shrek: NO!!!!!!!!!!!

Shrek: (P)layers!

I like gaming, but to be perfectly candid, I don’t really consider myself a “gamer”, and I think that primarily comes down to why I play video games. I find that it’s becoming less and less plausible for the general society to say, “they are for kids and you’re an adult”, and that’s largely due to the development of the industry and an increasing acceptance of it as a legitimate storytelling medium.

Some people read, some watch TV or films, some play video games (some all three – like me, but most won’t do the latter).

Whilst the video gaming industry is still principally concerned with entertainment, I’ve certainly noticed the shift over the years from a pure entertainment focus to well scripted epics – it’s the new/modern day conduit for exploration of myth and self. Not only are the characters and stories of some of these games being fleshed out even beyond the capabilities of film, but the environments/worlds are increasingly rich, dynamic, detailed and all-consuming for the players.

The nature of video gaming delivers something that TV, films and even books cannot – YOU are actively partaking in the construction of the story, it’s not a passive intake. However, some games play more like interactive movies, but the majority of gamers still want quality gameplay i.e. a video game still has to fundamentally be a game, otherwise why play it?

Video games require a greater commitment; time, effort and money – in large part due to its active nature.

So, what does all this have to do with video games being therapeutic in the layman’s sense? Well, this comes back to why I don’t really consider myself a gamer, as I don’t play video games for the sake of gaming. I still enjoy satisfying and challenging gameplay as much as the next person, but I mainly play for narrative and virtual photography purposes – of which I talked about in my “Fantasy vs Reality” two-parter.

Naturally, my interest in philosophy and psychology steers me in the direction of truth, beauty and the nature of human beings which, thanks significantly to technological advancements, are able to be expressed with greater ability and creativity than before in this medium.

Escapism is not a new term and people use in varying ways to describe a need relax or a sense of diversion or to avoid something else entirely. The daydreaming-distraction two-pronged sword of escapism can be both therapeutic or downright detrimental. Sometimes people just need a break from reality for a little while, but there is a downside that can spiral into hours and hours a day, day after day. Such is the nature of these expansive fantasy worlds, so much effort goes into gaining and maintain player’s attention, it can keep players occupied for 100s of hours.

When fantasy becomes so good why live in reality? I suppose the question is better asked this way, with more and more people’s reality becoming less optimistic, joyful, receptive, and beautiful, where do you expect people to go to ameliorate their suffering?

I mean, people are going to want to seek solace somewhere, perhaps even a place to show off some competence or join a community of like-minded individuals. “Console” has a dual meaning here.

I don’t suggest we start using some video games as a substitute for actual therapy, but they can be an alternative means to explore the human condition such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (psychosis), The Last of Us (trauma) or Death Stranding (existential concerns surrounding purpose, connection and death).

Only if you’re honest can you begin to ascertain whether you’re in need of a little respite or you are masking a much deeper problem. Escaping into a video game can be the moment’s relaxation and enjoyment we seek or it could be us running and avoiding the source of our problems which this band-aid will only hold on for so long.

If life is getting a little overwhelming, which it can do especially at this time of year, I find this sage piece of advice helps lessen the existential dread:

"Soon you will have forgotten all things…and soon all things will have forgotten you." – Marcus Aurelius
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