Video Games and Health

Video Games and Health

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8175-0.ch004


Video games are being used as a tool that can help many different health issues. This is not limited to the idea of using a Nintendo Wii as a way to promote physical activity; that is actually the least common use of video games related to health. Video games are being researched for how they can help many different mental health issues, including ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders. More than anything, the research is trying to understand the different ways that video games can affect the different cognitive processes that humans have, and how that matters to the medical and health community. This chapter explores video games and health.
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Video Games As Distraction

The first section of this chapter can be thought of as the “softest” of the chapter, as it does not refer to actual treatment or health of individuals by video games. This section is about how video games can be used concurrent with treatment as motivation for the treatment, or as distraction from the treatment; a way to build morale and help the well-being of the individual while particular treatments are going on.

First, an example: “Told he had a 2 percent chance of survival and torn away from his friends to the harsh confines of a hospital, Gonzalez turned to video games for comfort.” Moss (2014) Steven Gonzalez had leukemia, and was frequently away from his world of friends and school for treatment, away from anything remotely like a normal 12 year old’s life. Video games were a way for him to still connect, socially, as well as a way to try and ignore the treatments he had to be consumed by:

As he was absorbed in these virtual worlds, alone or with his father, his pain, nausea and fatigue disappeared. Games proved an escape from the psychological and physical ravages of his treatment, which included chemotherapy and a double umbilical cord blood transplant — a special kind of blood transfusion that provides stem cells for growing new bone marrow — followed by 30 days of hospital isolation and 100 days of home isolation. They provided what he calls a bridge back to normalcy — a shared hobby by which he could bond with other kids, separate from the cancer and transition smoothly back into his old life when he entered remission. (Moss, 2014)

This is a big deal for many individuals who are suffering, not just through a disease, but also through the treatment(s) for that disease. Especially in the case of cancer, the treatment can sometimes be worse than the disease itself, and video games provide a way to be separated from that, and have some time away from feeling terrible.

There is even a program in development at the Maryland Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital called the “Arts in Medicine Program” that is run by Ian Cion. Cion is a big proponent of many different activities to give individuals while going through treatment for cancer, video games being one of them:

When you walk into a room and someone is feeling physically really low,” says Cion, “they might be vomiting and they might be in a lot of pain, and to engage them creatively has a real effect. ... You can in a short period of time have somebody stop crying, start focusing on a project and start laughing and telling stories.” There's a biological, physiological value to being focused like this, he argues. “You're releasing endorphins; there are certain pain inhibitors that are getting blocked when you're focusing. And all of a sudden you're engaged with something and you literally see the life coming back to people. You see [their] dynamic steer to spunky — you know, fun shine[s] forth in somebody when they start to engage in something creative. (Moss, 2014)

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