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Platforming brawlers vs anxiety?
by Eske Knudsen on 07/25/14 10:56:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Could you successfully improve people’s ability to focus and concentrate by playing challenging side-scrolling platform brawlers?

This was a question I found myself asking after having played through a good portion of Guacamelee. I am not a natural at this genre of games, so even the easier ones pose a challenge to me. This means that for certain segments, be it tricky platforming sequences or fights, I have to let go of the controller and take a deep breath before I can continue. I find that I really have to concentrate and focus on calming myself (no shaking hands) and analyse the task ahead. After having done this I usually beat the challenge, sometimes I have to do it several times, but every time I have the feel that the game moves a bit slower.

Screenshot from Guacamelee; from the media section of the official website.

The thought I had was that skill based games like this, that have a increasing difficulty curve and unforgiving gameplay could be used as part of teaching people how to manage anxiety. The games would not stand alone, but be part of a course plan involving both practise and reflection upon how the things that would be experienced in the game can be transferred to “real life”.

This goes hand in hand with Kolb's theory of experiential learning, excuse for being lazy, but if you are interested in reading more I add the wikipedia link.

There are many versions of the cycle, just look up Kolb's learning cycle.

The game would then represent the active experimentation and concrete experience which the players would reflect upon.

This way of teaching anxiety management wouldn't be for all, but as games become more and more normal and people's general experience with them increase; using games for something like this is not as far fetched as it might have been some years ago.

Testing whether the method works could be done by simple methods such as measuring blood pressure or sweating in the palms. This I guess could prove an interesting study to some students or researchers within the field of serious games, at least I would love to read a report based on this study.

Another intriguing prospect of this is that action games are one of the lesser used genres when it comes to serious games, which in general favour slower paced genres that allow for more reflection on the subject matter at hand.


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Philip Minchin
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Absolutely! This doesn't just apply to videogames either - I have used the real-time co-op board game Escape ( to teach stress/anxiety management and collaboration skills under pressure. Games have a huge potential in this area of attention/mood management - as many gamers know from having self-medicated/self-educated themselves through games in exactly this way :)

Great piece! I hope your call for more research is picked up.

Philip Minchin
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Especially that last point about serious games... there could be some amazing uses of videogames to deprogram child soldiers and break stressful associations for PTSD sufferers...

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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I dunno but one time I had an anxiety attack, I decided to play some Metro 2033 to cool myself off. It sure worked. There's always a moment in those kinds of games that eventually lull me into some sort of zen Tetris-effect. I sweep through room-by-room methodically and shoot off enemies from a distance.

Joe Program
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When it comes to testing, it's all about whether those skills can transfer to other areas in a person's life. If you're going for anxiety, from a funding angle you're also probably going for PTSD, which has a high concurrence with concussion. People suffering from concussions can range from not being able to play games at all - such as Jane McGonigal's - to being fine with playing games. This means you want not only a big range of customization in the game, but also a big range of customization in the visual effects. For example, those reward screens where you get a new power would need to be tuned way down.