Why Video Gaming Therapy?


Video games are a good tool to extend play therapy into adolescence (Ceranoglu, 2010) since this medium is the preferred form of play for this age group; 97% of American teens ages 12-17 report gaming (Lenhart et al., 2008). In addition to being in the language most preferred by teens, it is well-known that teens are notoriously apathetic to talk therapy. Playing games allows for a kind of parallel activity that can help them open up about deeply personal issues they may not otherwise discuss.

Here are some other aspects of gaming therapy that may be interesting to you:

1. Gaming can impact development in positive ways;

  • Action games that require fast response are causally related to increases in many faucets of spatial cognition (Spence & Feng, 2010), such as:
  • contrast sensitivity
  • spatial resolution
  • attentional visual field
  • enumeration
  • multiple object tracking
  • visuomotor coordination
  • speed
  • mental rotation
  • affect regulation
  • reaction time
  • inhibitory control
  • Prosocial games have been found to improve social cognition (Greitemeyer, Osswald, & Brauer, 2010). 

xbox layout

2. Different types of games elicit different types of play (Hamlen, 2011):

• Active play= high cognitive load and fast paced (Call of Duty, Left For Dead, Halo)

• Strategic play= manipulation of game resources (Civilization 2, Star Wars Lego Games)

• Creative play= can modify the game environment (Animal Crossing, SIMS)

• Explorative play= discover new things and solve problems in the gaming field (Legend of Zelda)

• Boys favor Active and Strategic play while girls favor Creative and Explorative play

kids gaming

3. Games can be used in therapy to understand many psychological aspects of kids (Ceranoglu, 2010; Spence and Fang, 2010):

• Explore weaknesses/strengths

• Temperament

• Exercise moral judgment

Role play

Build self-esteem

• Establish rapport with therapist

• Increase social cognition

• Engage in playful fighting behaviour

• Regulate affect

• Explore autonomy and decision-making

Down's and Gaming


4. Research has found video Games to be an effective therapy tool for these special populations (Goh, Ang, & Tan, 2008):

• ADHD (Tahiroglu et al., 2010)

• Anxiety disorders (Jordan, 2009)

• Autism spectrum (Parsons, Mitchell, & Leonard, 2004)

• Depression (Ferguson & Rueda, 2010)

Neuropsychological rehabilitation (González-Fernández, Gil-Gómez, Alcañiz, Noé, & Colomer, 2010)

• Down’s (Wuang, Chiang, Su, & Wang, 2011)



Ceranoglu, T. A. (2010). Star Wars in psychotherapy: Video games in the office. Academic Psychiatry, 34(3), 233-236.

Ferguson, C. J., & Rueda, S. M. (2010). The Hitman study: Violent video game exposure effects on aggressive behavior, hostile feelings, and depression. European Psychologist, 15(2), 99-108. Goh,

D. H., Ang, R. P., & Tan, H. C. (2008). Strategies for designing effective psychotherapeutic gaming interventions for children and adolescents. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(5), 2217-2235.

González-Fernández, M., Gil-Gómez, J.-A., Alcañiz, M., Noé, E., & Colomer, C. (2010). eBa ViR, easy balance virtual rehabilitation system: A study with patients. Annual Review of CyberTherapy and Telemedicine, 8, 49-53.

Greitemeyer, T., Osswald, S., & Brauer, M. (2010). Playing prosocial video games increases empathy and decreases schadenfreude. Emotion, 10(6), 796-802.

Hamlen, K. R. (2011). Children’s choices and strategies in video games. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(1), 532-539. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2010.10.001

Jordan, N. A. (2009). This is why we play the game: A quantitative study of attachment style and social anxiety’s impact on participation in online gaming relationships. Syracuse University Ph.D. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/608589366?accountid=7122 ProQuest Dissertations & Theses (PQDT) database.

Lenhart, A., Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., Macgill, A. R., Evans, C., & Vitak, J. (2008). Teens, video games, and civics Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from doi:http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Teens-Video-Games-and-Civics.aspx

Parsons, S., Mitchell, P., & Leonard, A. (2004). The Use and Understanding of Virtual Environments by Adolescents with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34(4), 449-466.

Spence, I., & Feng, J. (2010). Video games and spatial cognition. Review of General Psychology, 14(2), 92-104.

Tahiroglu, A. Y., Celik, G. G., Avci, A., Seydaoglu, G., Uzel, M., & Altunbas, H. (2010). Short-Term Effects of Playing Computer Games on Attention. Journal of Attention Disorders, 13(6), 668-676. doi: 10.1177/1087054709347205

Wuang, Y.-P., Chiang, C.-S., Su, C.-Y., & Wang, C.-C. (2011). Effectiveness of virtual reality using Wii gaming technology in children with Down syndrome. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32(1), 312-321.



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