DRMacIver's Notebook

Computer games as therapeutic tools

Computer games as therapeutic tools

I think computer games are underrated therapeutic tools. Many people seem to know this, but it seems surprising to others, so I'd like to tell you about three that I find useful.

These are:

They each have slightly different functions.

Celeste is very good for inducing flow state. If I'm in a bad mood, or otherwise need to recover from something, Celeste allows me to drop into flow state almost instantly, because it's impossible to play Celeste and think at the same time, and it is a rich source of challenges that are right at the edge of my skill level. This is why it works - it is hard enough to require full concentration but not too hard to be unachievable.

Another game in a similar genre to this is Hollow Knight. Hollow Knight does not work like Celeste for this. It's a decent enough game, but it's a bit too erratic in its pacing and the sort of decision making it requires to be a flow state on tap like Celeste is.

Slay the Spire's function is very simple: When I need a break from my brain I can play it for however long I want. It's the opposite of Celeste, in that it doesn't require flow, it just requires very basic reactivity and can be played while half zoned out. If Celeste lets me dial up my level of presentness in the moment, slay the spire lets me dial it way down.

(Playing Slay the Spire well requires more concentration and thought than that, but I never claimed I played it well)

Untitled Goose Game has an entirely different purpose. It's a diagnostic tool.

As edent has pointed out, when considered on its merits as a game, Untitled Goose Game doesn't really have any. It's a very weak puzzle based game with not much play time and not a great deal of challenge to it.

On the other hand, you're a goose wreaking mayhem, and you can steal a man's slippers and drop them in the pond, then run around with his pipe in your beak, so there's that.

Untitled Goose Game is great if and only if you are currently able to experience the emotion of malicious glee. You are causing problems on purpose, and that's hilarious. As such I find it a very useful diagnostic tool for telling how depressed I am. Depression is in large part a restriction on emotional range, and having a tool that will reliably provoke a particular emotional response if I'm currently capable of experiencing it is very helpful for calibrating my current level. "Gleelessness" may lack the cachet of "Hopelessness", but it still seems to be a pretty reliable predictor of my depression levels. HONK.

These aren't the only games I play, but they're the main ones. And having a small library of them that I've played a lot of is helpful because they serve as a sort of COULDDO list where if I'm not sure what to do, I can pick one of these up, and play them more or less on autopilot, and the effect works reliably. I expect I'll add to the list over time, but for now these seem to be a good set of tools for my personal therapeutic toolkit.