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Anita Mortaloni, a prominent figure in disability advocacy and a leading voice in gaming accessibility, made a fascinating observation about the role of video games. She said that, for many people, especially in tough times like COVID-19, video games can be a huge source of joy and escapism. She said that video games and therapy are increasingly intersecting, with games offering new approaches to mental health treatment.
Notably, research from Nielsen revealed that during the peak of the pandemic lockdowns, a staggering 82% of consumers worldwide engaged in playing video games and consuming video game-related content.
The integration of therapy into video games is changing how we approach mental wellness, providing bespoke experiences that cater to the emotional and psychological needs of different groups of people. From family therapy games to therapeutic games for teens, these games are more than just play; they’re a bridge to positive mental health and wellbeing.
In fact, online gaming has even been referred to as ‘the new therapist’s office’. Video games, often seen as merely a form of entertainment, are being recognized as valuable tools in the therapeutic treatment of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. The immersive and interactive nature of video games provides a unique medium through which individuals can engage in therapy in a way that can feel more approachable than traditional methods.
8 video games used in therapy
“Playing video games and connecting with others can be very healing.”
Anita Mortaloni, Director of Accessibility at Xbox
Let’s look at some virtual games that are making real-world impacts in some therapeutic (and unexpected) ways:
Designed to help teenagers combat depression and anxiety, SPARX uses a fantasy game format to teach players skills to deal with negative thoughts and feelings.
2. Brain Age
A puzzle-based game originally developed for Nintendo DS, often used to improve cognitive functions like memory and concentration.
A game designed to help players build personal resilience in the face of challenging life situations, which can also aid players with anxiety and depression.
A visually stunning game known for its calming and meditative effects, often used to help with stress relief and emotional regulation.
Tetris has been a game used in therapy, particularly in helping with PTSD. The game’s engaging and absorbing nature can help reduce the occurrence of flashbacks.
6. Animal Crossing
Popular for its relaxing gameplay, Animal Crossing allows players to escape into a virtual world, which can be particularly beneficial for those dealing with anxiety and stress.
7. The Legend of Zelda
Used for cognitive therapy, this game involves problem-solving, planning, and memory, making it suitable for cognitive development and rehabilitation.
8. Beat Saber
A virtual reality rhythm game that combines music and movement, used in physical therapy to improve motor skills and coordination.
Are video games accessible for everyone?
Although the therapeutic benefits of video games are being increasingly recognized, it’s important to turn our attention to a particularly vulnerable segment of the population – individuals with disabilities.
People with disabilities often face unique barriers to online content, including video games, and are at a heightened risk for mental health conditions. Research by the UN highlights this fact, showing that nearly one billion people globally suffer from mental disorders, and a similar number live with disabilities, often facing a higher risk of mental health challenges. This is why It’s so important for us to think about how therapeutic gaming can be adapted to support the different needs of this demographic, ensuring accessibility in mental health interventions.
So how accessible is the gaming industry today, and how can we ensure its therapeutic benefits reach those with disabilities?
How to score big in gaming accessibility
In 2023, the video games market is projected to reach a revenue of US$249.60bn. It’s expected to grow at an annual rate of 9.32% between 2023 and 2028, resulting in a projected market volume of US$389.70bn by 2028.
Given these impressive figures, how much more opportunity exists for the market to expand even further by building robust accessibility features into online games?
This strategic focus on accessibility can do more than just increase revenue; it opens the door to a broader audience, including individuals with disabilities.
This expansion taps into what is often referred to as the “purple dollar” – the spending power of people with disabilities. By catering to this demographic, the gaming industry can substantially widen its consumer base.
By embracing accessibility in gaming, the industry stands to score big, not just financially, but also in terms of social value and market reach, effectively harnessing the power of the purple dollar.
So how can we make video games accessible so all players can experience the therapeutic benefits of gaming, regardless of their abilities?
5 tips for crafting video games for therapy
In the quest to create video games that are truly inclusive, there are key accessibility features that can make a world of difference for players with diverse needs. From customizable controls to difficulty adjustments, and from enhanced visual options to subtitles and visual cues, these practical tips ensure that gaming is an accessible and enjoyable experience for everyone:
1. Customizable controls: power in the player’s hands
Why stick to one-size-fits-all when you can customize? For players who face challenges with mobility or dexterity, the ability to remap controls is invaluable, putting control back into the gamer’s hands.
2. Difficulty adjustments: choose your challenge
Is your game a “hardcore quest” or a “walk in the mystical park”? Offering adjustable difficulty levels means everyone gets to pick their own path and pace in the gaming world, making it an inclusive adventure for novices and gaming experts alike.
3. Color and contrast adjustments: a world of possibilities
What if the world you’re exploring isn’t as vibrant as it should be? By tweaking color schemes and contrasts, we can ensure that every player gets to witness the full splendor of the gaming universe, especially those with color vision deficiencies or low vision.
4. Subtitles and visual cues: more than just words
Ever tried playing with the sound off? Including subtitles and visual cues ensures that even without audio, the story and excitement are not lost. It’s about making every sound and dialogue accessible to all players, bringing the game’s narrative to life for everyone.
5. Assistive technologies compatibility: unlock new realms
Imagine gaming where your eyes or voice can control the action. By ensuring compatibility with assistive technologies like screen readers, specialized controllers, and eye-tracking devices, games can open doors to uncharted worlds for many players.
Video games and therapy: why collaboration is key
Designing accessible video games benefits all players, offering support to anyone in their therapeutic journey. However, industry insiders state that true accessibility is only achievable when disabled individuals are involved in the creation process.
This approach is not unique to gaming; it’s a valuable lesson for all tech sectors. Involving disabled gamers in every step of game development is a common practice in the gaming industry but more can be done in this vital area.
Hiring people with disabilities can greatly help to amplify the voices of the disability gaming community and capitalize on its feedback. Their unique perspectives can guide the development of more accessible games, ensuring that these products resonate with and meet the needs of a diverse player base.
By actively listening to and integrating their feedback, the gaming industry can create experiences that truly cater to all, thereby expanding its market reach and enriching its cultural relevance.
Did you know? Accessibility in video games isn’t just a matter of inclusion; it’s a legal consideration too. Depending on where you are in the world, adhering to web accessibility standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and compliance with laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is becoming more than just good practice—it’s a legal necessity. Around the globe, countries are stepping up the enforcement of web accessibility laws, making it imperative that digital content, including video games, is accessible and accommodating for individuals with disabilities.
What will the future of video games look like?
The future of gaming and accessibility is at an exciting crossroads, a promising industry where inclusivity is the norm, not the exception. As technology advances, we can anticipate games that are not only more immersive and interactive but also inherently accessible.
We’re likely to see an increase in adaptive technologies that cater to a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities, making gaming an experience truly for everyone. Virtual and augmented reality will continue to play a huge role in the way we consume games, offering new ways for people with disabilities to engage with virtual worlds in ways that were previously unimaginable.
The collaboration with individuals with disabilities in game design and accessibility testing is likely to become more prevalent. We’ll see a shift in game development, with a strong focus on building games that are accessible right from the start. This inclusive mindset in game design not only enhances the gaming experience for people with disabilities but also enriches the gaming community as a whole, making it a more vibrant and diverse space.
UserWay: therapeutic gaming made accessible
At UserWay, accessibility isn’t an afterthought – it’s at the heart of everything we do. As a leading provider of web accessibility and compliance solutions, UserWay helps businesses across all sectors ‘win the web’, building accessibility into digital spaces from websites, mobile apps and digital documents.
UserWay’s suite of offerings include the Accessibility Scanner, a fully automated system that quickly checks for accessibility issues and performs real-time monitoring. UserWay Accessibility Audits gives you access to certified accessibility experts who will manually assess your digital assets for compliance with WCAG 2.1/2.2 AA levels. And UserWay’s popular Accessibility Widget has over 100 AI-powered accessibility tools and supports integration on more than 20 platforms. These tools can take the accessibility of video games to the next level, breaking down barriers to the therapeutic benefits of game play for all. Book a demo to see how it all works.
What are the benefits of video games used in therapy?
Video games used in therapy are specially designed digital games that aim to provide therapeutic benefits. They are used to help users, including teens, improve mental health, cognitive functions, and emotional well-being through engaging and interactive gameplay.
Can video games be used in family therapy, and if so, how?
Yes, video games can be an effective tool in family therapy. They facilitate communication, collaboration, and problem-solving among family members, helping to strengthen relationships and address specific therapy goals in a fun and interactive way.
What makes certain games therapeutic for teens?
Therapeutic games for teens are designed to address specific mental health issues or developmental challenges. They often include elements that promote self-reflection, emotional regulation, social skills development, and stress relief, making them beneficial for teenagers undergoing therapy.