PTSD and Gaming


Serious and not so serious games are commonly being used for training, and study, even as a new type of coping mechanism. But some games it seems can do just the opposite; they can be triggers.

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Thanks to my own personal battles, I’ve always kept an eye on developments in the realm of mental health. I find what happens with the mind, whether it be due to brain chemistry or outside influences, very fascinating. Although I did not serve, I know many folks who did and like to try to keep up on how technology has been helping our warfighters who return from areas like Iraq and Afghanistan with their own personal battles with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Thus, when I saw this article on Kotaku about how Stay Strong Nation was warning that Call of Duty: Black Ops could possibly be a trigger for PTSD, I was immediately interested.


The comments thread on that article was interesting as well.  One of the comments mentioned an article about how doctors use the older Xbox game Full Spectrum Warrior — a game I played the heck out of back when it came out — to help treat PTSD by slowly having them face situations similar to combat and talk about how they are feeling.

You’d be hard-pressed to consider any sort of serious gaming more serious than this in my opinion.

But I didn’t want to just emphasize my opinion. I spoke to a friend of mine who served as a Ranger in Afghanistan — and who also happens to be a big fan of his Xbox 360 and associated first-person shooters like Call of Duty.

“There is nothing more exciting and frightening than combat. The side effects of this experience affects each person differently. The bottom line is only you know what you are comfortable with. If playing a video game freaks you out or causes some sort of PTSD symptom, then don’t play the damn game, but if you’re OK, then pick up that controller and get your kill on,” he told me via email.


Another link off Kotaku took me to a New Scientist article about how games could help soldiers control nightmares. The article sites a study: “According to an online survey of 98 military personnel, regularly playing games that involve war and combat — like Call of Dutydecreased the level of harm and aggression experienced when they dreamed about war.”

It might seem strange to read a quotation from a soldier that says, “It was weird. Like we didn’t get enough violence.” However, the article further states that this might be “a manifestation of young men and women addicted to video games bringing their favorite diversions to war with them.”

Compare that to another line from my friend. “A combat-seasoned soldier is more likely to jump at the sound of a car backfiring than a simulated firefight in a video game,” he said. That might not be true for every soldier, but for many, that could explain how a video game covering the same thing they do every day doesn’t necessarily elicit the same responses.

The Economist wrote about how cognitive-bias modification could help people improve their mental health. The researchers used what appears to be a simple game on a computer to convince a user (for instance, with social anxiety) to successfully complete tasks that result in a neutral face on the screen rather than the disgusted one that they would naturally gravitate toward.

A lot of this reminded me of a story I saw in the I/ITSEC 2010 directory about a company called Aptima from Woburn, Mass. It’s developing a game called AGATE, or Adaptive Gaming for Auditory Training and Evaluation, which uses a “spy-adventure” game to help veterans suffering from brain injuries. I hope to follow up with them in a continuation of this article later. That is more about cognitive defects rather than mental health, but it is another way that gaming can help heal our warfighters.


Sometimes I feel like I can’t write an article on here without mentioning the Kinect — and that’s not because I’m a huge fan of it (I don’t even own one, to be honest) but because, in my opinion, it’s a big step forward between commercial gaming and what a lot of the simulation and training world has been looking for — the ability to control the game without a controller.

A final Kotaku article mentions that using the Kinect and the 360 has saved the University of Minnesota more than $100,000 in hardware costs. That’s the kind of article that makes me stand up and want to find out more about how we can use commercial platforms, like the Kinect, to help not only train people, but also to do it on a more cost-effective basis.

But in the end, it’s all about helping people through gaming. To quote my friend one last time: “PTSD sucks! Don’t take away my video games and make it suckier!”

via – PTSD and Gaming.

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