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Military vets are using video games to help manage their PTSD and the results seem promising

Gaming can help many people, including those that have served.

video gaming controllers sitting on table
Image: Unsplash

We all know how gaming takes us to different worlds. It can be a form of escapism, and a way to forget about everything around you, even just for a couple of hours. So, it comes as no surprise that video games have been literally saving the lives of those who have served in the military.

Writing a heartfelt piece for Wired, Alex Miller describes his military history, including the events that led to him developing PTSD, and how he uses video games like Mass Effect and Resident Evil 4 to cope on his darkest days. “All I need is a controller and a pillow. I can’t lift my head, but at least I can play. This is how I’ve prevented my own suicide.”

Highlighting the struggles

The RAND Organization researched the mental health needs of America’s returning veterans. They determined that 18.5% of all returning servicemembers meet the criteria for either PTSD or depression. Their research also uncovered the difficulties veterans face in seeking the care they need.

Source: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9336.html

The coronavirus pandemic has made a tough situation even more difficult. Inner demons can make the isolation of lockdown incredibly taxing on the mind, and many veterans have been left unable to get their meds – including mental health treatments – through the mail. Playing video games helps to stop the black dog from barking too loud.

Gaming as a treatment

Gaming can more than just a mental escape. Bravemind is a project using virtual reality to aid in therapy, and it’s being used at more than 60 sites, including several VA hospitals. Project leader, Albert “Skip” Rizzo, has been using VR since the mid-‘90s. He has seen positive results emerging in the ways “VR simulations can be used to test, train or treat human psychological, motor or cognitive functioning.”

Some of the treatments from Bravemind include using VR to immerse veterans “in digital replicas of Iraq or Afghanistan and help them – with the presence and guidance of a clinician – to gradually confront the memories and events that haunted them, at a measured pace they could handle.”

Those who have lost limbs are also using games in therapy and finding ways to access them in the same way as others. Warfighter Engaged helps to provide special gaming controllers and prosthetic enhancements to severely wounded and handicapped vets.

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller can help too. John Peck, who served from 2005 to 2012 tells a traumatic story where an IUD blew off his right arm above the elbow and both legs below the knee. A fungus ate his left leg up to the pelvic muscle. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, and they even had to amputate his left arm. He goes on to explain that he took up playing with RC cars but kept crashing them. Using the customizable Xbox pad, Peck can now play Assassin’s Creed, one of his favorite series.

A glimmer of hope

Miller’s writing gives a poignant look into the toll serving the armed forces can take on someone and highlights the difficulties of coping with the horrors of combat. It’s also an insight into the challenges that still exist. This raw take comes with an uplifting message, though; video games are being used to treat PTSD, depression, and more, and it seems to be working.

We make some awful jokes here at KnowTechie, but occasionally we do feel the need to be serious. If you think you may have an emergency or are in crisis, please call your doctor or 911 immediately.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time. This will put you through to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area. If you are located outside the United States and are going through any of these difficulties, please call your local emergency line immediately.

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