Scary video games help me deal with my fears about reality
I’m inside a shady corner of the room, hidden between a pile of books and an old cardboard box. I can say that there is something dangerous around. My heart is pounding and my ears are pounding. But I have to move, or I’ll never get out of here.
I sprint to the other side of the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a hole my size in the ground. I run for it. My heartbeat is getting faster and faster, the sound is getting louder and louder, and when I get to the hole, a long gray arm with sharp fingers comes out of the next room, grabs me by the stomach, and falls on my dirt-soaked face. rags. Everything stays black.
And then I save my progress, release the jaw and prepare a cup of tea. I will feel calm all evening, having nothing in the real world will scare me as much as the endless monsters lurking in the darkness on my Nintendo Switch screen.
Ever since I was young, I’ve dealt with disturbing and disturbing games like that Small nightmares, despite a perpetual fear of the dark — I slept on the light until I was about 12 — and a lifelong anxiety. In high school, the afternoon home was just pure torture if I spent it in the quiet of my bedroom. Instead, I would turn on the TV, turn on the Xbox 360, and turn off the daylight unnoticed while I spent hours around the world. Dead Space, borrowed from a friend who would become one of my greatest advocates of mental health.
It’s just not feelings of escape, comfort, or control they encourage me to play video games to deal with my fears about reality. I actually think it’s closer to some versions of exposure therapy, looking for games that represent the horrible extremes of my specific fears, and allowing me to work on the answer to them. Often, I return to the real world more calmly, more attuned to my breathing, and have the ability to control my depression and chronic anxiety.
“What you’re often doing in exposure therapy is seeing yourself see the world, because most of us feel anxiety only when we have traces of threats around us,” Isabel Granic, Games for Emotional & Mental Health at Radboud University Laboratory, tells me. “So if you think about a video game, if you only look at threatening contexts, if you were more relaxed, you could lose the strategic things you could do in the game and it would open your attention.”
GEMH Lab’s Granic develops and researches video games that use the principles of psychology to help children cope with anxiety and depression. As a developmental psychology teacher and video game lover, Granic says he noticed that his children were going through challenging and often frightening games, which prompted him to combine the principles of exposure and cognitive behavioral therapy with video game mechanics.
So far, he has been working on it Mindlightwhere players are fitted with a brain wave sensor that monitors the amount of light they have to explore the enchanted house DEEP, A VR game in which a belt that measures the player’s diaphragmatic breathing controls the movements of the underwater world.
But there are games specifically designed to interact with your brain waves or breathing habits that can help with anxiety. Granic says that when I choose to play scary video games, I’m training for the anxiety I have in real life, whether I’m conscious or not.