183: Goodbye, Cruel World

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Goodbye, Cruel World

We've all played videogames to temporarily escape from reality, but who knew that games could be an effective medical treatment for chronic pain? Rob Zacny explores the psychology of pain therapy.

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There's an article on Hunter Hoffman's work here as well as further reading.

That was quite an impressive read. It's not often under all the pressure of "anti-gaming intellectuals" banging all the negative aspects of the world on computer games, to find a positive article about how gaming can be beneficial, especially one written in this length and detail. I really liked that. Nice work.

Snow World ( http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/11/snow-world-virtual-reality-used-to-treat-burn-patients.html ) is the obvious poster child here. A nice little stereoscopic rail shooter.

I have to agree on the wonders of video games as analgesia after a rather painful motorbike accident I shattered my femur and broke my knee.

In hospital with nothing to do the pain was constant and just bearable, out of hospital with a copy of FF12 that I'd been meaning to get back into the pain was a constant dull rumble, true there are the effects of the injury healing and so causing less pain. But several operations later I can confirm each time some good hard RPG grinding of FPS fragging has always taken most of my pains away.

Also gaming helped me off my pain killer addiction after said accident, I ran out of drugs and decided to go cold turkey, I was so bad at work I was sent home till I felt better, a few hundred rounds of BF2 and I was off the pills and my agression/frustration/irratability was back to its normal simmering self.

Now Im in for another operation in march so a few weeks of work and another JRPG and I'll be sorted.

This article explains why I find Child's Play to be such a great idea. Hospital stays can be miserable for kids, especially when in pain, and distractants like the games Child's Play provides go a long way to helping kids cope with a very alien experience.

To those fearing this will lead to an addiction, it's far better to get hooked on games than on painkillers.

-- Steve

Hm... I'd love to see a professional research. "I haerdz on t3lly" that they are pure evil you know...

Knowing from my own experience - Video games can be only a mean to run away from reality. Sure, sorts out pain a bit, but what next? You keep coming back, again and again..

A well-written and well-researched article. I'd love to show it to people who say that games serve no real purpose.

All so true. I play games when I feel sick. I had the flu a few weeks ago and felt like shit. When I was playing didn't notice at all, it was the only thing that worked. Better than all the drugs.

I agree with Anton, Child's Play is a great charity. Through out this article I kept thinking of this charity and how I should say something about it, it was a pity I got beaten to it.

As this is the Escapist, an article about playing video games to escape from pain and suffering seems like a very well suited article.

I wonder if the effectiveness of video-game pain treatment differs from game to game and maybe one day it would possible to create a game that will completely remove the feeling of pain, at least for a short while? More research should be done on this topic.

Interesting topic, well written.

When my teeth got smashed out last year, I had a grueling 8 hours to wait before the dentist opened. I couldn't sleep, so I ended up playing (and beating) Mass Effect all night. It was definitely preferable to lying in bed wondering whether I would ever be able to eat steak again.

Very interesting article.

I think one thing that is absolutely critical to the concept of using immersion in a videogame to battle pain, is the word "immersion". The videogame absolutely MUST grab the attention of the player and keep them immersed adequately enough to provide a beneficial effect. For example, a game like Snow World (as shown above) wouldn't do me any good at all. I think the patient's natural interests would need to be carefully considered in deciding what games should be "administered" to the patient. If you give me a shallow FPS, I'd lose interest and return to my painful reality fairly quickly. On the other hand, if you give me a well made FPS with online multiplayer (ie. COD4) or an excellently written JRPG (ie. Persona 3/4), I'd probably forget I was in pain at all, that is, until I had to use the restroom or something, which would snap be back to reality.

The author used videogame immersion to quit smoking one week. I wonder if I could stop eating as much. If I didn't have the wife to cook for, then it's very likely that I could cut down on my fatty diet.

I got hit by a car in July and ended up breaking 2 fingers and and my left ankle. Couldn't walk for about 2 and a half months and couldn't play 360 except for geometry wars 2 because of the shoulder buttons.. Ended up playing a ridiculous amount of Pokemon pearl.

A well-researched article, for sure. Similar to the article on video games helping remedy ADHD, video games are excellent for students and early post-graduates who have less money and more free time. For working people with families and other responsibilities, however, medication still holds more promise for non-crippling afflictions.

This article reminded me of my wife's uncle, for whom the old AD&D Gold Box games were a frontline defense against his alcoholism. It also got me thinking about why my brother-in-law has been glued to his laptop since he wrecked his ankle playing softball.

Great article! Its so true how playing game can really calm a person down or make them feel better. Whenever I fell crappy I usually go online and play Resistance 2 and kill some Chimera. Great really researched article!

I enjoyed this article. It's no surprise to any gamer that games have a much greater ability than more passive forms of entertainment to distract from the world. But while all of the research is based on physical pain, your introduction implies that this is tied with emotional pain. This grabbed my attention because I would typically view distraction as an undesirable method of dealing with emotional pain. Sure, in the short term in can help while emotions calm down, but beyond that, the only to heal emotional pain is to face it. The research doesn't say anything to confirm or contradict this because physical pain is in a completely different category.

I think it's great that research is showing the merits of games in the realm of physical pain. Hopefully it will encourage the medical community to use it as a tool. But misinterpreting the research as a treatment for emotional pain could hurt more than it helps.

An interesting article, and I certainly agree gaming can be a useful "complimentary treatment" to pain and psychological problems, perhaps on par with massage and other similar things.

I know when I was in secondary school, games where a good way to take my mind off of the loneliness I felt being the fatter, nerdier one who actually liked to learn things (a cardinal sin in British schools these days), and doesn't like alocohol (another sin in England in general these days).

Games keep me sane, and I have noticed that their is an effect of distraction when under the weather (i.e. colds seem to bug me less, flu felt less strong, etc). It should be noted that game addiction is a factor to watch for, but as you said, compared to drug-addictions, its not on the same scale at all.

From my own personal experience, two things generally help me out greatly when I am very angry, frustrated, or generally foul on my outlook on my 'issues' (whether they be job related, relationship, injury, etc.)

The gym and gaming.

The gym has been a real stress reliever. Nothing beats lifting mad weights when your addrenaline is high due to 'issues'.

Now when it comes to gaming....I've lost many a hour in WoW or CoH in my ability to tune-out the real world. For that period of time, I tend to forget my 'problems' with people in my life, work, family, etc.

While the problem may still exist when I return from my digital exploits, it somehow seems somewhat diminished and maybe 'not as' bad as it was earlier.

This is a great article, with great imagery to go along with it. Escapist is awesome.

Very interesting article.

It really sums a lot of things up for me from my own life that I hadnt thought of in this light before. I had chronic pain since the start of high school (13 years old), which went undiagnosed until I was 19.

I played games before that as I had fun with them but it wasnt until this age bracket that I really got into them a lot more. Now I'm 23 and trying to kick my gaming addiction (well ease back from what I used to play at University - thank you WoW, Counterstrike, War3, starcraft, etc :P ). I would say it reached the stages of addiction or at least was a strong long, long term habit.

During this time I had pain in almost all of my joints which would come and go - but it was a near constant in my life. Looking back the pain of course is not the only reason I played games but unknown to me it probably was a major factor. Living life in pain compared to playing games, having fun and feeling less pain all in one go - what would you choose.

After being diagnosed and being given medication to deal with the pain I was already playing games a lot and this continued until I finished off my university studies (Electrical Engineering/Physics).

Now I am working and trying to cut down the amount of hours I play. I have stopped playing computer games completely and now only allow myself the PS3. My choice is to 'improve' my spare time when I'm at home so I can spend more time with my girlfriend (not a computer game fan at all and has put up with me playing it a lot).

There is no real point story but rather would like to say looking back this article is supported by my whole life these past 10 years. I never thought of it this way until now and to me it seems to fit perfectly into why I enjoyed computer games so much.

Thanks for the article. I can say in all honesty it makes every click into place perfectly from my past and present situations. (now does anyone know the easiest way to quit gaming :P )

Thanks so much for that well-written story. I knew video games help me with stress, but I didn't know about so much pain reduction. I now know I need to get my daughter a PSP or DS.

I thought it was a great read and it reminded me of what had just happened to me earlier today. Being a bit of a stretch that this story will be, I'll share it.

Earlier I was playing Mirror's Edge Time Trials, attempting to get 3 stars on all of them. This is migraine inducing in its own right, but there was another pain eating away at me...literally. I was hungry. I thought to myself, put the game down, go get some food, and come back later. For some reason though, pressing "Restart Race" was so much more alluring that I completely forgot about my hunger pains and continued on playing for over another hour. This, accompanied by your article, gave me a good chuckle. Knowing that I was part of an indirect experiment on myself.

Now if only I could get my girlfriend to play more videogames...Sure she plays some, but nowhere near the recommended dosage. ;)

Kudos are in order. A very entertaining, informative read. I suppose I've used gaming as a distraction from pain more often than I would've admitted had I not read this article (Post-breakup WoW binges, I'm looking at you.)

Wow, I totally agree too cause I use video games as an escape from the things bothering me in my life. Wow kind of explains why I've been playing my entire life. I had lot friends turn to drugs when life got hard for them. I even had friend lose his mind from it. Me, I always turned to video games.

that was a good read. from personal experience, Video Games did help me get through a nasty break up and the BS that followed

Nice, very interesting article - and a lot better researched than many of the 'anti-gaming' research papers you can find out there, too!

This actually clicked with me, as well, as I went through a period of my life a couple of years back wher I was massively depressed. I had just split up with my girlfriend of two years, as she was a manic depressive who had attempted suicide many times, and I couldn't deal with the emotional weight of it - I was only eighteen, after all, and due to this I was feeling constantly depressed and didn't want to do anything. I very nearly dropped out of school, only just scraped a couple of Ds on my coursework (I had previously been a straight-A student), and honestly couldn't see the point of anything.

Then one of the women that I worked with mentioned that her son had been playing Guitar Hero recently, and did I know anything about it? Being something of a musician and games nerd myself, I had been meaning to get it for a while, but never bought it. She lent me her son's version, and I immediately feel into it, playing it for hours on end pretty much daily. Suddenly, everything felt a lot... less. I was cheering up, I managed to pull my grades back up in time for exams, and generally was feeling much better about myself. Nowadays, if I ever feel low, or things are getting me down, I boot up Rock Band and play the hell out of some songs for a while and nothing affects me quite as much.

While games may not work for everyone, and you'd definitely need to find the right game for the right person, their effects as both an emotional and physical analgesic can be fantastic. This is definitely something that needs to be looked into on a grander scale.

Nice article. Reminds me of the news piece they had here a bit ago:
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/88051-Snow-World-Helps-Soothe-Soldiers-Pain

I remember fracturing my growth disk on my left hand. Full encased in a ceramic cocoon. Played the Gameboy one handed in bed.

anabbeynormality:
I enjoyed this article. It's no surprise to any gamer that games have a much greater ability than more passive forms of entertainment to distract from the world. But while all of the research is based on physical pain, your introduction implies that this is tied with emotional pain. This grabbed my attention because I would typically view distraction as an undesirable method of dealing with emotional pain. Sure, in the short term in can help while emotions calm down, but beyond that, the only to heal emotional pain is to face it. The research doesn't say anything to confirm or contradict this because physical pain is in a completely different category.

I think it's great that research is showing the merits of games in the realm of physical pain. Hopefully it will encourage the medical community to use it as a tool. But misinterpreting the research as a treatment for emotional pain could hurt more than it helps.

I kind of disagree with you when it comes to treatments of emotional pain. It depends on the scenario. If there is something you can do to fix whatever's causing you problems, then yeah, you need to be doing that rather than gripping a controller and delaying the resolution. But if it's something that you can't fix, like losing your mother to alzheimers, girlfriend leaving you for your best friend, etc., thinking about it is painful and pointless. You can't do anything about it, can't fight it, can't fix it, why bother thinking about it until you're nearly suicidal? Pick up that controller, and make your mind think about something else. Subconsciously,at least in my experience, you're working through the motions and grieving, but it just doesn't hurt as bad.

My introduction might seem like it's suggesting that gaming is a treatment for emotional pain, but really I just wanted to recall that line from my friend because it's something I've thought a lot about over the years. My research interest was physical pain, how it works, and why gaming helps us deal with it.

On the other hand, my personal inclination is to agree with Unholykrumpet. It depends on the situation and I don't think any of us has the answer for dealing with emotional pain. There's a lot of different causes and types, so there's probably a lot of different ways that we can try and come to terms with it. For some people, medication is the only answer, for others it's therapy, for others it's just staying busy. Some need all three. But I think a lot of gamers will cop to using games to avoid dwelling on bad feelings.

I liked your article all in all (especially the short but precise explanation on the PAG), however there's two things I want to point out:

Introducing an addictive substance to someone exposes him to serious risks that grow with prolonged use.

I'm studying medicine and - interestingly enough - this was one of the aspects of today's lecture. The addictive nature of (opioid-)painkillers like morphine only matter when taken to improve a non-pathological state. A person suffering from chronic pain won't develop an addiction. Basically, because the morphine is used to recreate a normal (pain-free) state, the psychological consequences of, say, taking heroine to heighten your mood beyond normal don't apply. However, they can develop a physical dependancy (without the psychological aspects) that may require tapering the dosage once the need for pain-medication has vanished instead of stopping treatment altogether at once.

Physicians must constantly vary the treatment regimen as a patient's body adjusts, but they must also weigh the risks of increased drug use against the very real need to treat the patient's pain.

From what I know of palliative care, varying the medication isn't typically necessary. There are cases when patients react paradoxically to certain opiods (like INCREASED feelings of pain), however these are rare and can be solved by switching to a different type of opiod. Of course, if the condition declines further, you might have to increase the dosage. Big problems of opioid-drugs are obstipation and nausea, both of which can (to a point) be controlled by additional medications.

so true...

"Spy sappin' my psychological effects!" Heh heh heh. Sorry.

Were videogames to replace painkillers, the people who use them would be able to perform better at work because there would be no narcotic side effects. But then again, it would take longer to get "medicated". Maybe instead of taking smoke breaks, people could take video game breaks? I would like to see that.

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