Stereotypes persist that video games can harm the health of gamers. Gamers are often described as couch potatoes who spend their days staring at a screen rather than socializing. It is true that gamers, just like office workers sitting in front of a computer, can struggle with digital eye strain and poor posture. However, some people with disabilities use video games as a vital wellness technology.
How video games promote mental well-being
During Covid-19, people in quarantine turned to video games to relax and socialize. Multiplayer games like Among us brought friends together to play in a digital space even when those people couldn’t meet in person. With travel plans on hold, some people have turned to games like Animal crossing quench their thirst for adventure.
Anita Mortaloni, director of accessibility at Xbox, says video games have brought the joy of gaming back into people’s lives during an international pandemic. Mortaloni explains, “The pandemic has been difficult for a lot of people, but video games have allowed them to come out and feel joy. It was a way to escape Covid-19 for a while. It shows the power that games and community have in people’s lives. lives, even during an international pandemic. Playing video games and connecting with others can be very healing. “
While the pandemic has highlighted these benefits, gamers with disabilities have long used video games to create a sense of community and expand their world. 40% of people with disabilities or chronic illnesses may feel isolated, in part because some of these people may find it difficult to leave their homes to meet friends. Some of these people can find company on websites like Can I play this? an accessible gaming-centric outlet, or supportive gaming communities such as the Xbox Ambassador Program, a community of Xbox gamers who support and help other gamers. This community includes ambassadors with and without disabilities.
Cerebral Paul is convinced that video games saved his life, literally and figuratively. Without video games, Paul would miss an essential social outlet in his life: “Being disabled is a lonely experience. But I can socialize with my gamer friends from home when I’m in front of my computer. These connections keep me active. The game helps me remember that I am not alone.
Research indicates that Paul isn’t the only person enjoying the benefits of video games. A Oxford University study found that people reported feeling happier after spending time playing Animal crossing Where Plants vs. Zombies, which are two games related to problem solving, resource management and nature.
How games can inspire us to design accessible technologies
Several decades ago, people might not be able to play video games unless they could physically hold and move a joystick. Now adaptive controllers, closed captions, and VR sets have opened up the gaming world to all kinds of people with all kinds of bodily needs. Since video games are dynamic forms of media, creators can use a variety of sounds, visuals, and haptic cues to immerse all of the player’s senses.
When Dave Evans of Falling Squirrel game studio was designing he realized that people with disabilities were more than just beta testers; they were co-creators. The Valley: Shadow of the Crown is a unique game because it is designed with audio signals. Players must navigate battles and challenges exclusively by sound. Because video games often feature bright landscapes, blind people can feel left out. Evans did The Valley: Shadow of the Crown because he noticed that blind gamers deserved to have a wider selection of video games. But Evans soon discovered that accessible features can actually improve technology for all users: “I’ve learned that you can make fonts easier to read and commands easier to use. These things are crucial for blind people who don’t have a visual cue, but I just realized that this game works much better for everyone.
When people design accessible video games, players with and without disabilities can have a better experience. Evans remembers watching his son test The Valley: Shadow of the Crown: “I thought he was sleeping. For four hours, he lay on the couch with wireless headphones on. It’s a really interesting way to play games. I’m so sick of always staring at a screen during my 40s. Lights can hurt your eyes. So playing this game with your eyes closed was a kind of meditation. I could sit somewhere far from the screen. I might just be in this virtual world for a minute.
But game makers argue that products and places will never be accessible unless companies invite people with disabilities to help build them. Tech makers in other industries can learn from video games, as these creators often consult disabled gamers at every step of the design process. Evans says, “You’re not going to assume what people need from a product before you ask these users. So, to make games accessible for people with disabilities, you need to hire people with disabilities on your team. They will play the game with you.
How to have a healthier relationship with video games
From apartments to hospitals, video games have the potential to improve well-being.
Paul thinks that video games can help him develop his manual dexterity: “I went back years later and tried to play a game I was stuck in, and now I can get away with it. . I may have matured my thinking, and this maturity can help me get through the games. But I also wonder if my hands are doing something a little better with the controls. In a study of surgeons, those who played video games showed more spatial awareness and dexterity. Some doctors use video games as a physiotherapy tool to help stroke victims regain mobility of their hands and fingers.
Whether you are a seasoned gamer or a novice, there are many different ways you can use video games to improve your health.
First, consider incorporating video games into your exercise regimen. With VR headsets and body controls, a player can use their entire body to play a game. Some people with certain inflammatory conditions like arthritis may benefit from yoga or Wii Fit archery. These video games guide players through slow, gentle movements that can help keep the joints open and flexible. Consult your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Second, play multiplayer games in welcoming communities. Cyberbullying is a pervasive problem in some video game circles. Paul recalls these encounters: “Some morons didn’t want me to play, and they laughed at me because I couldn’t jump or shoot as well as they could. To avoid potential harassment, look for players you already know. Ask your friends if they would like to play with you online. Otherwise, visit groups of disabled players. Some of these communities are announcing their anti-bullying policies. If you encounter hate speech, report offending players to a moderator.
Third, use video games to enjoy nature. Nature has long been associated with health benefits. People who spend time outdoors tend to experience less stress. But many people with disabilities find it difficult to leave their homes, let alone hike on nature trails. Playing video games for advice on nature can seem contradictory; after all, most people play video games in their homes. Corn according to psychologists at the University of Waterloo, people felt relaxed after spending time virtually walking around a forest scene in the video game Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. After participating in a digital nature walk, these players reported a lower heart rate and a higher sense of contentment. Video games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Skyrim offer breathtaking views, mountain scenes and beaches. If you can’t travel to access these natural sites, then playing a video game may be the best thing to do. Activate a story mode setting and enjoy the views of the virtual forest and birdsong.
People with disabilities have a long history of using video games to improve their mental, social and physical well-being. These disabled innovators can inspire us to rethink video games as more than just entertainment. When we recognize these health benefits, we can consider the role video games can play (literally and metaphorically) in our own self-care routines.