Video game psychotherapy: is it effective?

Video games are an ever-changing industry with almost endless possibilities for the future.. While in the early days of video games consisted of simple codes that executed very simple commands, today the level of recreation of reality is impressive and yet continues to evolve by leaps and bounds.

If we add to this factor the increasingly massive marketing and development of virtual reality products, we have a really interesting cocktail to start producing video games dedicated exclusively to therapeutic practice or, at least, to use the existing means to carry out certain types of therapy under the supervision of a professional duly trained in the field.

The therapeutic potential of video games

In a previous article, we talked about the educational use that a genre of video games, with a large projection, called a sandbox, could have. This genre in particular has great qualities which can also be used as a tool for carrying out therapies of different types, such as cognitive rehabilitation therapy.

The key element that this genre of video games has is the freedom of action in a world that, in general, simulates the real world. This element is valued by its action if we also add social game functionalities which, by the simple fact of promoting the social relationship, is already in itself a therapeutic element, as we saw in a previous article in which we analyzed the therapeutic possibilities of Pokémon Go.

The power of virtual worlds in video games

The human mind is capable of accomplishing incredible feats, and among all of them, the ability to make emotional and intellectual connections with virtual worlds opens up the possibility of performing a myriad of therapeutic practices that would not be possible if the industry. video games are not where they are.

The capacity for empathy that we have as humans allows us to dive into the virtual worlds that video games offer to a very high level, especially if we add the new virtual reality techniques which greatly improve the immersion of the player. in the video game, giving the impression of being in him incredible. This opens up a new avenue of possibilities for psychotherapy, allowing the user to enter a world in which we define the desired parameters so that their experience is enriching and therapeutic in different contexts.

For example, more and more experiments are being carried out on this topic, and the results of the vast majority of studies show a great potential of video games in the methodology of therapy.

Some examples of video games with therapeutic potential

A good example of this type of study is that carried out by Llorens et al. (2015), in which they performed video game-based group therapy in people with a certain type of head trauma. One hour a week for six months, this group performed a type of therapy devised by the authors, and the results showed it was a very effective and motivating experience, they dramatically improved self-awareness, Social skills and their behaviors, given that these were patients with head trauma.

Another interesting study is that carried out by Fernandez-Aranda et al. (2015) in which video games were tested as a tool to perform cognitive behavioral therapy in patients with bulimia nervosa. In this study, we saw how cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as the so-called serious games, could be of great help in the emotional deregulation of patients. Using both, they observed that patients with bulimia nervosa experienced fewer dropouts and greater symptom remission, both partial and total, compared to the control group who only practiced cognitive behavioral therapy. without video game support.

In contrast, studies such as those by Krzywinska (2015), Younbo et al. (2015), Servais (2015) or Smethhurst (2015) show us that video games can be used by therapists to improve patient understanding and gain more in-depth information about themselves, especially in video games. survival horror, first-person shooters, and role-playing games, as they deal with topics that in many cases are taboo, such as funerals, death, and even trauma. In a therapeutic context, immersing the patient in these virtual worlds where these topics are discussed can provide very valuable information and which might otherwise be much more difficult to achieve.

Finally, a study conducted by Sevick et al. (2016) in which they performed a type of movement therapy on the upper limbs in patients with cerebral palsy, using video games and the Microsoft Kinect motion sensor. In this study they observed that the levels of motivation to perform the exercises were considerably higher when they made use of this platform which integrates video games and movement, thus obtaining a higher performance and the possibility of moving the intervention to the patients’ homes, due to the high performance compared to the exercises performed in the clinical center or laboratory.


As we can see, the results of these studies show the great utility that video games can have in psychotherapy and counseling, thus widening the range of tools that the therapist can use, such as, as the technique of the empty chair or the ‘exposure, they offer new possibilities that should not be overlooked despite existing skepticism about this new paradigm. All these studies discover a new world in the application of video games to carry out therapies and treatments of all kinds, provided that the use is supervised by professionals trained in the field.

Emphasizing the importance in the early stages of vital development, video games are a tool with great expectations for the future, especially considering the speed at which the video game industry is evolving and the new platforms. which are developed in parallel, such as Virtual reality or motion sensors, which still open up a range of possibilities, which in itself is very interesting and should be taken into account much more given its characteristics.

Bibliographical references:

  • Fernandez-Aranda, F., Jimenez-Murcia, S., Santamaría, JJ, Giner-Bartolomé, C., Mestre-Bach, G., Granero, R., et al. (2015). The use of video games as a complementary therapeutic tool for cognitive behavioral therapy in patients with bulimia nervosa. Cyberpsychol. Hold on tight. I am. Netw. 18, pages 744 to 751.
  • Krzywinska, T. (2015). Video Game Horror: Representation, Regulation, and Assignment in Horror Survival Video Games. J. Vis. Worship. 14, pages 293-297.
  • Llorens, R., Noé, E., Ferri, J. and Alcañiz, M. (2015). Video game-based group therapy to improve self-awareness and social skills after head trauma. J. Rehabilitated neuroengineering. 12, pages 1-8.
  • Servais, O. (2015). Funerals in World of Warcraft: Religion, Controversy, and Playstyles in a Video Game Universe I am. Compass 62, pages 362 to 378.
  • Sevick, M., Eklund, E., Mensch, A., Foreman, M., Standeven, J. and Engsberg, J. (2016). Use of free video games on the Internet for motor training of the upper limbs of children with cerebral palsy. Behavioral Sciences, 6 (2), 10.
  • Smethhurst, T. (2015). Play dead in video games: traumatic classification. J. Pop. Worship. 48, pages 817-835.
  • Younbo, J., Hyun Jee, O., Sng, J., Joung Huem, K. and Detenber, BH (2015). Examining Gender Preference for a First-Person Shooter Video Game: Effects of Nonverbal Sensitivity and Gender on Pleasure. Interact. Computing. 27, pages 697 to 705.

Leave a Comment