Dr. David B. Adams – Psychological Blog

Psychology of Illness, Pain, Anxiety and Depression

Video Games

A gaming console and an action game in 2014 dollars costs ~400.00 – less than the price of one month’s supply of narcotics. Multiple articles over the past 10 years have examined improvement in a patient’s experience and tolerance of pain while playing video games.

Numerous studies advocate use of virtual reality(VR) in reducing the experience of pain in children suffering from cancer and other conditions. Virtual reality, at present, involves wearing specialized glasses and headgear that immerses the patient in a fantasy environment. Children and adults can become so immersed in those environments that they report appreciable pain reduction.

There are virtual reality programs/equipment for posttraumatic stress in veterans, patients with specific phobias and patients with depressive disorders. The equipment, however, is significantly more expensive than video game consoles owned by the average person.

Some studies have compared cognitive games (problem solving video games) vs. action games. The greatest pai relief came from action games.

It was initially believed that video games provided pain relief by distracting the patient from their medical problem. More recent research, however, indicates that there are significant changes in brain function, especially in virtual reality environments, that occur at a chemical level and actually moderate the degree of pain experienced. [Verified by MRI studies: “may produce an endogenous modulatory effect, which involves a network of higher cortical (e.g., anterior cingulate cortex) and subcortical (e.g., the amygdala, hypothalamus) regions known to be associated with attention, distraction and emotion.”]

Any patient would clearly benefit from any productive activity within their objective limitations that “distracts” them from pain, but video games and virtual reality actually alters the way the brain processes the pain while the game is being played.

When you compare the costs of video games, to the costs of standard and conventional treatments, to the risks inherent in narcotic medication or the additional suffering imposed by some procedures, encouraging the patient to play video games may be an alternative that we have not previously considered.

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