Games Simulate Phobias

Games Simulate Phobias

According to a recent study, off-the-shelf computer video games are an effective method of treating people's fears, games can be realistic enough to induce similar reactions in people to those they experience when facing their fears. They can therefore, be used to treat these conditions, using desensitization, a form of therapy that exposes people to the source of their phobia in a controlled setting.

The study, published in the October issue of the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior, was conducted at the Universite du Quebec en Outaouais in Quebec, Canada.

The researchers found that PC games that give users control over the game environments, were just as effective at stimulating phobic responses as the currently used special simulation machines that cost up to four times as much.

The researchers used Half-Life and Max Payne to create a spider-filled environments for arachnophobic people, and Unreal Tournament and again Max Payne to simulate heights for acrophobics and tight spaces for claustrophobics.

A group of 13 people with phobias and 13 non-phobic people were tested using the games, a low-end PC and the head-mounted display. They were run through the simulations and then tested on a series of scales to measure their response.

The results demonstrate that despite their low cost and flexibility, (PC simulators) can be phobogenic, the researchers said. Moreover, virtual environments derived from games can produce the mid-range levels of anxiety that are most useful in therapy.