Dr. Xbox

One day, your psychologist might give you a prescription not for drugs but for a video game.  According to a post on kotaku.com, researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College are developing a game that uses biofeedback to help treat anxiety disorder.  This could become the first of many games designed to improve your mental health.

Biofeedback technology reads signals from your body to control the game.  Think of the Kinect for Xbox, where a camera watches the player’s movements and the character in the game mirrors them.  Another game, this one for PC, uses a webcam to monitor the player’s breathing, turning the player’s lungs into a video game controller.  Using electrodes on the head, a video game system could even be controlled with brainwaves.

The video game designed at Rochester is customizable, meaning a psychologist could program features into the game specifically tailored for their patients.  Patients could then face their fears in a safe, consequence free environment and learn to overcome them.  The biofeedback technology—especially the kind using brainwaves—could also record the patient’s reactions to each virtual situation, giving the psychologist more information to further improve and refine that patient’s treatment.The science fiction novel Ender’s Game included a psychological video game, one in which a computer determined what challenges each player most needed to face.  As a result, each player entered a different virtual labyrinth representing his or her unique psychological issues.  The game was a useful tool not only for psychological health but also for manipulating young boys and girls, turning them into good soldiers (it’s important to remember than any technology can be used for good or evil).

Although the field of psychological gaming is in its infancy, I believe it has tremendous potential to do some good.  With more research and new technology, something similar to the game envisioned in Ender’s Game could become a reality.

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