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PlayMancer, a game therapy tool for mental disorders

by on February 4, 2014

By: Brogan Cordova


Hard data on video games as therapy for mental disorders is uncommon, to say the least. With PlayMancer, that’s starting to change as shown in a recently released study.

PlayMancer is a game designed specifically to treat mental disorders, in this case eating disorders and impulse control disorders (such as pathological gambling). It’s an adventure game where players overcome challenges related to their disorder and deal with their emotions and physiological responses. The goal is not winning or defeating a boss, but improving their self-control.

Through a suit similar to motion capture suits, the game monitors bio-feedback and emotional responses from the player. Upon recognizing the player’s responses, the game modifies aspects like difficulty depending on their emotional state. Thus, the game reinforces relaxed and calculated decisions.

The researchers’ past experiences using games as therapy have taught them a few things that helped lead into this research. Patients are more willing to participate in games as treatment and games brings out hard-to-treat underlying attitudes and emotions such as frustration. Having a game that can instantly respond and react to players can be designed to create therapeutic situations.

While PlayMancer is still being played and studied, the 40 mental disorder outpatients tested so far have produced these results. Like their research has suggested, eating disorder and impulse control disorder patients are more open to games as treatment. There’s a strong link between their emotions and high physical reactions when mental disorders concerned, with faster breathing in the game and slower breathing in the post-game relaxation time. By relaxing after the game, the game will start to trigger less tension each session.

They also noted that PlayMancer has helped patients learn new coping and self-control strategies that they can apply in stressful real life situations. Since games offer the unique ability to bring out underlying emotions and attitudes, they can reduce the severity of those factors. This game, as a supplementary treatment, increases the effectiveness of traditional long-term therapy.

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