Video Games: Personal Medicine for Vets

A US soldier plays video games in Lakhokad camp near Kandahar city on November 26, 2010. Image: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images
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A US soldier plays video games in Lakhokad camp near Kandahar city on November 26, 2010. Image: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Could video games help military veterans with mental or behavioral health problems? 

Michelle Colder Carras, PhD, interviewed 20 US vets who were in treatment at a Veterans Administration facility. Colder Carras, now an assistant professor at the Netherlands’ Radboud University, found video gaming could cause problems but also deliver “personal medicine” in a recent Social Science & Medicine journal article.  


What’s the problem? 
US military veterans struggling with mental or behavioral health problems like PTSD often have trouble finding mental health help. Recreational activities can be relaxing and distracting, and video games can also help by connecting people socially, making them feel empowered or even giving them a sense of hope or meaning. 
 
What did you find? 
We explored how veterans with mental or behavioral health problems used video games to improve their mental health. Veterans felt that video games at times played an important role in their mental health. Some veterans felt that games were a vital source of connection or distraction during times of suicidal thoughts or drug/alcohol cravings. A few gamers were able to assume leadership roles or even earn an income from their gaming. Although some described feeling addicted or having gaming-related problems, many also talked about creative ways to self-regulate their gaming.
 
How will this make a difference? 
Playing games might provide well-being benefits that go beyond symptoms relief and are accessible to people for whom traditional treatments and social interactions may be difficult. I am working with my new colleagues to change how clinicians, parents and teachers think about video games for mental health.

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