Video games helping the victims of violence

by endlesspsych

Welcome to my first multimedia post! Jinkeys!

After the recent furore about MW2 and the usual turgid claims that video games cause violent behaviour and are the root of everything thats bad and terrible and evil and wrong ever, ever, ever I have to admit I rolled my eyes expecting the worst when I stumbled across an article on video games and PTSD.

Post traumatic stress disorder is defined as follows:

The diagnostic criteria for PTSD, per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (Text Revision) (DSM-IV-TR), may be summarized as:[1]

A. Exposure to a traumatic event
B. Persistent reexperience (e.g. flashbacks, nightmares)
C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma (e.g. avoidance of experiences that they fear will trigger flashbacks and reexperiencing of symptoms fear of losing control)
D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (e.g. difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger and hypervigilance)
E. Duration of symptoms for more than 1 month
F. Significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (e.g. problems with work and relationships.)

Notably, criterion A requires that “the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.” The DSM-IV-TR criterion differs substantially from the previous DSM-III-R stressor criterion, which specified the traumatic event should be of a type that would cause “significant symptoms of distress in almost anyone,” and that the event was “outside the range of usual human experience.”

Since the introduction of DSM-IV, the number of possible PTSD traumas has increased and one study suggests that the increase is around 50%. Various scales exist to measure the severity and frequency of PTSD symptoms.

I was expecting someone claiming that video games could cause PTSD! (You can find out more about research into PTSD here)

It seems I need not have worried there is apparently a growing body of research out there that suggests far from causing violence and the collapse of society video games can be used to actually help the victims of real violence. Indeed there is even a conference, now in its sixth year, for the subject of games and health.

It’s heartening to see that rather than choosing to mindlessly blame a medium for all of society’s ills – obesity, antisocial behaviour and violence being the first that spring to mind – there are people out there who are trying to come with ways to use the medium in a positive way.

Above there is an image of a soldier using a VR helmet – I can’t vouch if this is part of  PTSD treatment or not but I’ve just learnt how to put images into blogs so everyone just pretend it’s relevent yeah?

It is through this method that Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo aims to treat PTSD sufferers. He has created, using XBOX game Full Spectrum Warrior (not a million miles away from MW2) a “virtual Iraq” where the severity and realism of the simulation could be adjusted for therapeutic purposes. Bascially Dr Rizzo uses the VR headset and the simulated enviroment to engage in exposure therapy. Using Virtual Iraq Rizzo can control gradual exposure to trauma in a manageable way, this can eventually leads to habituation and extinction of the syndrome. Normally, about 75% of soldiers will begin to display PTSD symptoms within about six months. With traditional therapy, this is reduced to about 67%. But with exposure therapy, this can be reduced to only 27%.

Further to the benefits offered but not having to rely on a patients imagination but rather a highly controlled simulated enviorment Dr. Rizzo believes that the method may help to overcome common objections to seeking treatment for post traumatic disorders:

Given that a high percentage of sufferers of PTSD never seek treatment, part of Dr. Rizzo’s theory is that patients who grew up in the digital age may be receptive to this approach, thereby eliminating some barriers that may be seen to exist in people approaching and receiving therapy. Another part of the strategy is to “re-conceptualize” therapy, calling it “VR Post-Combat Reintegration Training,” which sounds better than therapy.

I for one wish Dr Rizzo well and hope that this goes someway to combatting the vilification of video games that surfaces predictably and regularly.

However if playing in a virtual Iraq isn’t to your taste there is an alternative. TETRIS.

unfortunately the research conducted under the dreaming spires at the University of Oxford indicates that TETRIS is only of any use if played immediately after a traumatic event (well a traumatic event as allowable by research ethics – a short (12-minute) film of traumatic scenes of real life injury and death) which might not be of use to everyone as perhaps out last thought after experiencing such an event is to whip out the gameboy (yeah check it out representing old skool!) and trying to launch that rocket. Although the researchers suggestion is a little leftfield it might not be entirely without merit.

The subjects then either played 10 minutes of Tetris or sat quietly. Following this, they kept a diary for the next week in which they recorded any flashbacks to the film. The Tetris-playing group reported significantly fewer flashbacks both during the 10-minute task, and across the course of the week, than those who spent the 10 minutes sitting quietly. The authors suggest that the brain’s ability to lay down the foundations of PTSD get interrupted by having to use the same pathways to concentrate on playing Tetris, and that the game might be used as a “cognitive vaccine” in the early post-trauma period by emergency services

Interesting stuff and as good a reason as any to post the following youtube videos:


…and for purists!