Video Games
Trauma, Healing and Gaming Part 4: 10 Ways The Community Can Help With PTSD

Liana Kerzner | 27 May 2015 15:00
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If you've read the previous three parts of this series, hopefully you agree that video games and video game technology can help the PTSD healing process. Games themselves are lifelines for many people who are still struggling, or who are taking the hard but necessary steps to get our situations under control.

The stories I heard researching this series - stories of war, bravery, addiction, injury, loss, love and sacrifice; featuring the military, parental abuse, childhood cruelty, stalking and even religious cults... every one of these stories was worthy of its own video game. It was a huge honor and responsibility to try to incorporate their views into an article series with respect and dignity. It was humbling that strangers trusted me enough to share details of their diagnoses so I could verify their situations for this piece. I hope these people feel like they matter to someone, because their stories have so much inherent meaning.

There are still more people out there who aren't getting help because they're too afraid or ashamed to ask. They're suffering alone and in silence, and I really hope that this series has made it clear that they don't need to do that. Reintegration into society after traumatic events is still a major challenge, so I'd like to close this series with ten things the video game industry and community can do to be more inclusive of people with PTSD, as well as their friends and loved ones.

joel-and ellie in the last of us

1. Make yourself more aware of PTSD

This is a redundant request if you've read all four parts of this series, because you're already on that path. However, if you're a developer of any game hinging on a catastrophic event or personal tragedy, understanding PTSD will make your game more realistic - look at how various responses to trauma informed The Last of Us. No one expects a fictional character to be an embodiment of all people with PTSD everywhere, but if you're a dev who wants to include a character with PTSD, or include events known to potentially cause PTSD, an understanding of the condition should be just another facet of the research you do for your game. There's no point in getting the vehicles and weapons right and the radio chatter authentic if the emotional component lacks realism. A lot of people with PTSD bury their emotions deep, and that means there's a lot of depth of character to draw from.

Does a diagnosis matter from a narrative perspective? Absolutely not. However, it's important to separate what you see regarding PTSD in the media from the real life accounts, because the media tends to drain all hope out of the narrative.

2. Joke about triggers with caution

I get it: some people take the whole triggers thing to a ludicrous extreme, and the lectures, scolding and outrage get tiring. The temptation is there to cope with the politicized pageantry by cracking jokes. A certain amount of humor humanizes the situation, but not all jokes are created equal. Be very sure that what you're mocking is an overzealous use of triggers, not the reality of triggers themselves. And be prepared to respectfully honor requests to stop joking about the subject if you get them.

The Last of Us

Sometimes I find trigger-related jokes funny, especially when they're completely absurd: for instance, someone saying "Triggered by cute!" in response to a kitten picture. Other times I wonder if the person joking is actually mocking people with struggles. If someone stops the jokes when asked I assume they meant no harm. If they get offended by the request, that indicates a lack of empathy. Most people with PTSD don't want people walking on eggshells around them, so go ahead and joke around. Just be prepared to stop if asked.

3. Don't ever deliberately trigger someone

This may seem like an obvious point, but sadly, it's not. Some people actually believe that forcing people to face phobias outside of therapy is helping them in the long run, but all you're really doing is potentially ruining a person's day. While it's absolutely true that eventually trauma sufferers have to face our fears, that's a process involving us and our doctors, not some idiot on the internet who thinks they know better than professionals with direct knowledge of a person's case. Think a person is being "too sensitive" all you want, but respect their boundaries.

Furthermore, some symptoms of panic attacks mimic other health issues like heart attacks, so deliberately triggering someone potentially increases the burden on the health care system.

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