VIDEO GAMES A STRESS ELIXIR?

By Tammy Spath

I’ve been swept into the “Pokémon GO” craze and it got me to thinking , “Why am I so drawn to this game?”

squirtleIs it that I’m excited to collect cute little characters like Squirtle or Meowth? Or maybe it’s because it gets me outside walking and sharing something in common with my 13-year-old daughter, Emma.

But it reminded me of a recent TED Talks I saw about stress and playing games. TED Talks are short videos or podcasts that are meant to spread ideas. The one I remembered was about a young woman, Jane McGonigal, who identified herself as a ‘gamer’ and created video games. She shared her story about being suicidal for three months after suffering from the effects of a traumatic head injury. She created a game, “Jane the Concussion Slayer,” to help heal her brain by adopting a secret identity, recruiting allies and creating power-ups. That game resulted in a better version called “SuperBetter” which entrusted players to complete quests that increase 4 types of strengths known as resilience; which in turn helps create Post Traumatic Stress Growth (PTSG). PTSG is the positive change experienced as a result of a traumatic event. We know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),  the negative connection to a traumatic event. But these same events can induce a positive outcome.

What are the 4 resilience and how can you get them?

I’m going to give you some choices; read the choice and do one RIGHT NOW!

1. Walk 3 steps OR make 2 fists and raise them over your head for 5 seconds

2. Snap your fingers 50 times OR count backwards from 100 by 7

3. If you’re inside, find a window and look outside OR Google search your favorite baby animal

4. Shake someone’s hand for 6 seconds OR send someone a quick thank you by text, email, Facebook or Twitter

No. 1 builds your physical resilience, No. 2 builds your mental resilience, No. 3 is your emotional resilience, and No. 4 is your social resilience. All of them help to build your personal resilience; the ability to stay strong, motivated and optimistic, even in the face of difficult challenges.

Additionally, researchers at Oxford University tested a theory that playing Tetris as soon as possible after witnessing or experiencing a trauma could prevent flashbacks, one of the most painful and difficult to treat symptoms of PTSD. While we may not SEE trauma, we VISUALIZE it! Don’t we? You take a phone call or you hear radio traffic and then, you replay it in your mind over and over (painting a visual picture). What kind of stress does that place on a dispatcher or calltaker?

How does playing games reduce stress? Visual pattern matching games such as Candy Crush Saga and Bejeweled are so visually absorbing, they prevent your brain from concentrating on what you saw, and therefore block your brain from forming long-term visual memories of the trauma.

This research was done long before the Pokémon GO craze started, but I can see so many correlations for this game and building the strengths (resilience) to achieve Post Traumatic Stress Growth. Pokémon GO is a visually absorbing game that incorporates the real environment with game animations. The game also requires you to be outside and walk or bike (builds your physical resilience), collecting cute critters (builds emotional resilience), going to destinations known as PokéStops and talking to other Pokémon players (reinforces your social resilience).

The gamemakers are pretty smart. I think they also saw the connection between playing games and reducing stress, since a lot of the PokéStops are memorial benches, just like the one we have in the employee quiet area outside of our communications center. It’s our memorial bench for two officers killed in the line of duty in 2013.

So, if you’re feeling stressed out, think about a game on your next break! Whether it’s ‘TASTY’ or ‘AWESOME.’

To make it easier to remember during a crisis, just think ‘PLAY, don’t REPLAY.’

 Tammy is a Supervisor at Santa Cruz Regional 911 in Santa Cruz, California, USA. Her duties include managing the Training and Quality Assurance/Improvement programs; two of her passions. Away from work, she enjoys CrossFit, obstacle course racing, cooking, and spending time with her family.

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