The Role of Video Games and Virtual Reality in Psychiatric Treatment


One of the most promising opportunities is to replace neurocognitive instruments with cross-validated entertainment-based experiences. This would be especially useful in developmental disorders.

Understanding how the design of interactivity affects brain function, and how that maps to executive function development trajectories, is especially critical for use of these experiences by children.5

Lastly, the capture of behavior and social signaling while using media for the purpose of diagnosis and prevention is both highly promising and highly complex from an ethical perspective. From capturing a manic episode to detecting suicidal thoughts in social media, we lack an understanding of how to enforce compassionate and effective policies for dealing with such data.

It is time we focus our attention on the true barriers and opportunities interactive media can present. These technologies are here to stay and interactive storytelling and immersion is something psychiatrists need to get comfortable with. They can help make sense or contribute to the design of new experiences.

If we may be allowed to expand on a concept borrowed from Allan Schore, then the design of effective entertainment should require that we work safely and effectively “at the boundaries of the window of affect tolerance.” Psychiatry can help shine the light on what that boundary is to be for each individual.

David A. Baron, DO, MSEd, is vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles and a former deputy clinical director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Marientina Gotsis, MFA, is assistant professor of research in interactive media & games at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and director and co-founder of USC’s Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center..


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