Home Games & Tech Mental Health Awareness Week: Can video games be used for good?

Mental Health Awareness Week: Can video games be used for good?


We are bombarded with news stories of the negative impact of games. When Grand Theft Auto V came out late last year, it took little time for newspapers to report the negative ideals that it was teaching children. Now, while I consider this a debate over whether their parents should be letting them play those types of games, one has to wonder if games are having a negative impact upon us gamers. I believe they don’t. I am strongly passionate with the belief that games can have a positive impact upon us, despite all of the pessimism surrounding them. I want to give some examples of how games can and will continue to be used for good.

To begin, comes news from Norway that teacher, Tobias Staaby, has used the Telltale game The Walking Dead, to teach ethics to his students. For those who haven’t played this game, here is a brief explanation. It is based off of the graphic novel by Robert Kirkman, and is centred on the character Lee Everett. Everett finds himself in a world full of deadly zombies and must survive.

A fairly simple zombie game, right? Well, it isn’t. The critical choices you must make in order to help others have repercussions on how characters react, or on how later events unfold. As a result, this game is perfect for a lesson on ethics. It shows how our actions have impact on others, as well as challenging us with difficult decisions. One such example is euthanasia for one who will inevitably turn into an infectious zombie. The students discussed their decisions, and reportedly better understood ethic modes after playing. It just shows how games can be used to engage us, and pose challenges that reality simply cannot.

Next, I want to look at the work of Jane McGonigal. She is a game designer who believes that games are a force of good. She believes that reality can only take us so far, and that games allow us to unlock a more successful life. She explains that games allow us to experience more positive emotions, achieve more than we ordinarily would in everyday life and have more in depth social relationships. Not only this, she is also creating games that help others in real life problems. The example I want to share is SuperBetter.

This game attempts to help people dealing with problems such as depression, anxiety or even terminal diseases. The players give themselves goals known as ‘epic wins’ which they can move towards. These wins allow people to give themselves the feeling of satisfaction and the pride that they have had a positive, productive day. This is supplemented by noting their obstacles or ‘bad guys’ which the game encourages the player to tackle. It allows people to focus on something other than their problem and make steps in order to help themselves gain a more rewarding and optimistic life. YouTube videos and forum posts from the participants prove that SuperBetter has helped them to work through their problem.

Depression Quest is a game that has been created in order to help people who are dealing with mental health problems. The text based-game lets you live days of an unnamed person’s life, giving you choices of how you would combat aspects of his life. Yet, the game crosses out choices as the character becomes more depressed. This helps us to understand the frustrations that stem from the inability to discuss their issues without fear of judgment. The game not only aids understanding of mental health, but it also helps those who are dealing with it. The game emphasises that taking steps forward, opening up to people, not getting frustrated with oneself and taking professional help can move them towards a happier life. Also, the unspecific nature of the character allows empathy, so people can read how his life is getting better, and how theirs can do the same.

To answer the question posed in the title, yes, games can be hugely beneficial in life. They can teach us valuable lessons; help us to solve challenges within our own lives. But more so, they can help people to tackle illnesses, through encouraging socialisation with others and setting goals, people in these circumstances can take steps forward to a better life.


Dan Birch


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