Some people eat chocolate, others exercise, and a select few collect far too many cats. Me, well I play video games for comfort. My self-medication for the daily grind did not occur to me until recently. It was after a bout with an oral surgeon that I took purchase of my daily routine. In that scenario, I turned to video games, but for an entirely different reason than entertainment. I went to the digital world for extensive pain relief. As I struggled with the fear of dry sockets, mastication pains, halitosis, and food constantly being stuck in the pits, I realized just how much I use video games for.
Since their creation games have been used for entertainment purposes in some form or another. Whether it be on the years old lacrosse fields the Native Americans used, the ancient Coliseum or even Spacewar, all, or some, of the participants gained nothing but enjoyment from the spectacles. In their infancy, this is all video games were. They were a form of entertainment that tested many different skillsets . It could be memorization, practice, twitch reactions or pattern recognition. It was all very simple, until the end of the 16-bit era. At this juncture, and more concretely the fifth generation, games added a new dimension to their repertoire, the ability to entertain gamers through deep storylines that mixed with the third dimension and new and unusual gameplay.
Publisher and developers in those early years strove to create entertainment, anything past that was a bonus. Sure, some games could offer more than a simple escapist experience,Tetris being a great really early example, but digital triple threats didn’t become commonplace until later. While some titles in the fifth generation of consoles offered deep stories, other modified their desires from testing players, to rewarding them for their dedication. No longer did the best gamers on the block complete the most difficult challenges to see the finale of their games. Larger and more diverse audiences began to see their games to completion, allowing the opening of video games’ second ability, stress relief. Sure,Tetris and its line-building gameplay may have let us unwind in the 1980’s, but it wasn’t until the rise of first-person shooters and turn-based strategy titles that this secondary feature became commonplace. Have a hard day at work? Then pick up Quake to waste a few minutes mindlessly blowing away bad guys, or lose a night to the game that coined "one more turn," Civilization.
Stress relief has by no means been the final evolution of digital worlds. In recent years academia, gamers and even myself, have recognized that the growing media outlet can deliver far more than simple entertainment and helpful stress relief. As the industry has matured into its seventh generation, with the "next-gen" consoles and the advent of Direct X 10, gamers have been treated to an additional second effect to their favored pastime, pain relief. Recently games have shown great promise in treating patients with temporary pain, like wisdom tooth extraction, to chronic discomfort such as blood transfusion and chemotherapy. Due to the nature of research we’ve only begun seeing the results of multi-year studies on video games and their anesthetic properties. However, it has become clear that certain genres are more effective than others, the distractions of video games benefit gamers and non-gamers alike, and that video games have the potential to offer greater relief than conventional drugs. Drugs that users have a much higher likelihood to become addicted to, and that are far more harmful than most video game addictions could ever hope to be. Drugs are bad, mmmkay?
Through my gaming career I can offer anecdotal evidence to each of the three benefits gaming has to offer. Games from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! to City Connection brought my childhood endless hours of entertainment. Later, I used Day of Defeat to fight the stresses of college before dissolving my pain in World of Warcraft in lieu of testing my addiction levels with Hydrocodone. Games can offer a wide variety of benefits, but it is important to chose your poison – perhaps not the best choice of words – before looking to fire up your PS3, 360, Wii or PC for assorted escapism. After all, if you need stress relief than Geometry Wars and Ikaruga may not be your best bet. At the same time, a 30 minute session of WoW would offer little in terms of long-term entertainment, while BioShock’s complex story wouldn’t hold your attention through early contractions since your brain is certainly elsewhere.