Are Video Games Medicine? [VIDEO]
Video games could be thought of as proper medicine in the future. That’s exciting. I’m excited by the idea that video games could help people with ADHD, could help us prevent contagion epidemics, could help us understand mental health issues better, could help us find a cure for that auditory hallucination thing that happens after playing a game for way too long and you start hearing the game’s sound effects in your waking life.
What are your thoughts?
Hey Future Caleb, it’s 2017 in Present Caleb world, and I don’t feel very well. Obviously I don’t feel bad enough to fear death, as you, Future Caleb, are alive in the future…or maybe you are only technically alive, and I’m actually suffering a life-threatening illness and today marks the start of my life’s long, boring denouement as an artificially life-supported head in a jar. Dammit, Future Caleb, don’t let them do that to you. You’ve long been very anti-existing-as-a-disembodied-head-in-a-jar and any repurposed food container, for that matter. Head in a milk jug? No. Head in a ziplock bag? No. Head in a peanut butter jar? You’d think yes, as I love peanut butter. But, no… only because in this hypothetical (I hope, hypothetical) jar + head scenario I assume the jar based living quarters don’t contain, in addition to my head, all the important gastrointestinal accoutrement that would allow me to actually imbibe the peanut butter. It’s like my grandmother used to always say: Don’t eat it if you can’t poop it.
So, Future Caleb, if you are a head in a jar in the year 2078, I hope you also are a stomach, intestines (both large and small) and a b-hole, because otherwise you’ve got nothing to pseudo live for. Unless, the world of digital medicine is robust enough for doctors to prescribe video games to keep your head buoyant so your mouth stays upright and at least projects a shape that seems like smiling.
Here in 2017, though video games are a billion dollar industry, I still hear many dismissive remarks when I talk about my love of video games. Though, to be fair, the comments have graduated from simply associating my love with a child’s toy to more mature stances on video games being a waste of time. “Now if you’ll excuse me you grown man without a sense of purpose to your life, I’m going to go binge watch the second season of Game of Thrones…like an adult.”
That’s not an anti-Game of Thrones aside. It’s an anti-treating video games like they are less sophisticated than Game of Thrones aside.
But as oft-dismissed as video games are, I’ve been reading a lot lately about how video games are sneaking into respectability by way of medicine and other sciences. A recent episode of Next Level highlights a mobile game called Project: EVO, which aims to potentially help treat children with ADHD — as a prescribed video game. This, to me, represents the pinnacle of legitimacy. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you can poop it when doctors say you can eat it.
But beyond treating the PS4 as a pharmacy, games have played roles in the research & development side of medicine as well. In 2005 World of Warcraft characters were subjected to a virtual plague–a glitch that caused an hp-draining and highly contagious debuff spell called Corrupted Blood–which was meant to last only a few seconds–to last until death. The contagion spread like crazy. This event drew the interests of epidemiologists who were interested in using World of Warcraft as a way to model the spread of infectious diseases. The game Second Life has piqued similar interest.
And games don’t just explore the patient side of medicine. What about educating the unafflicted? The recently released Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is being praised for its handling of sensitive bipolar disorders. I think when games are allowed to comment on socially peripheral issues like mental illness, the issues don’t just gain positive attention, the medium itself is given more credence.
So, Future Caleb, the question is, does digital medicine hold its own against the entrenched world of internal medicine? Assuming you are just a head in a jar with no need for cardiologists, endocrinologists, proctologists, or really any of the doctors that use tools designed to mimic the convex interior of neck-down body holes (which come to think of it, represents a large slice of the doctor-responsibility pie) you probably don’t care about much of anything except your head and its insides.
And that’s where I feel video games have the most to offer in terms of medicine. The brain. Nobody can argue that a video game’s primary purpose is physical health. But mental health, that’s another story. I hope that you Future Caleb are surrounded not just by you still-intact body, but also by people who think of medicine from a truly holistic perspective. I’m excited by the idea that video games could help people with ADHD, could help us prevent contagion epidemics, could help us understand mental health issues better, could help us find a cure for that auditory hallucination thing that happens after playing a game for way too long and you start hearing the game’s sound effects in your waking life.
Present viewer, do you think digital medicine will ever be ubiquitous?
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Thank you for watching.
And to you Future Caleb, say hi to your grandkids for me.
Research/Sources/Credits/Inspirations (this is not a comprehensive list, as that would be impossible, especially the “inspirations” items)
- https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/25/16019760/prescription-video-games-brain-next-level-video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS_HDxQxxqw
- The Corrupted Blood incident, epidemiologists used WoW for research: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrupted_Blood_incident#Models_for_real-world_research, By Video-game or computer emulator, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10604817
- Old woman feeding birds: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_woman_feeding_birds.jpg
The following are YouTube videos licensed under CC BY 3.0
8bit Dungeon Level Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/