Thursday, August 21

Video games as therapy.

Do you see what I'm doing? It's called hypothesis testing, I suggest a hypothesis such as "Games are green" and then go looking for games of differing colour. On a personal level I dislike the falsification method but this blog is about games and gaming so I won't digress any further.

Several local hospitals use video game consoles as therapeutic tools. Of particular note is the Wii with its waggle and its balance board. The Playstation console gets a look in as well, mainly on price point though. Healing times for the users of these devices is improved and significance of pain is reduced (players often produce pain reducing effects while playing saving the hospital on pain medications, but costing more in electricity). Physiotherapy can be oriented through the medium of gaming making it more appealing and less about the cause of the problem (such as the accident that caused the loss of limb utility). Complaints about poor patient behaviour are reduced and depression resulting from serious illness is less frequent. I suppose it can be argued that some patients become less agreeable as they cannot enjoy their gaming in their own time, only according to the hospital's schedule.

What's interesting to me in this arena of the discussion is that the games don't really matter. Sure, there's a degree of consideration toward personal taste. What matters is that the gaming device is "easy to use". Games that fully support the ease of use are more "relevant" to the experience than those that highlight the user's inability so there is some degree of relevance in game design. The Wii excels here. When individuals are disabled temporarily they miss what they cannot ordinarily do and gaming devices such as the Wii and its Wii-mote offer many options to the player that help them feel capable across a broad range of disabling circumstances. Adding the balance board, Playstation Eye and experimental devices like this, this and this to the mix further increases this potential.

The medical profession as a whole has explored this further. There was a recent news item that showed a modified version of the Wii-mote being used as a surgery practice tool. Now this is significant, this is meaningful. Again, though, it's about the tools used and not the material written for those tools. It's easy to extend this idea into many other areas. Particularly those areas where injuries are frequent such as found in the manufacturing sectors. Skill acquisition through play (an inherently risk minimising activity) could become the way of the future. Imagine the headlines, "Wii wakes world!", or some such.

This relates to games how? Well here's the thing, I proposing that "play" is a meaningful activity with cultural relevance. And we "play" games, right? Right. Except that most video games (and tabletop games for that matter) don't really give us the tools we need to engage in meaningful play. This is where the language in games fails me. Most games are "passive" experiences, I get to play in somebody else's sandbox, the rules are set, restrictive and unyielding. Anything I do to break those rules is considered a "cheat". GTA 4 specifically declares them as such - even going so far as to provide a few so that players who wish to explore that world can skip some of the more repetitive tasks through the cheats. Games that give the tools to the players, on the other hand, are all about "play". Meaningful play. I provided some examples of that type of game in my earlier post. I genuinely believe that those games that focus on "play" and provision of tools to the "player" will offer the greatest chance at realising a meaningful contribution to the collective consciousness of the world.

Thus I'll conclude that the pinnacles of gaming achievement as crowned by the gaming media have not yet reached cultural significance in status. Sure many people love these games, myself among them, but their lives are not changed by the game content, by the playing of the game itself. I might not post to this blog as often as I plan because games distract me, but it is not their content that is changing my life, it is their function. Now if only the content could do for me what the content of other forms of media does, inspire me to greatness.

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