Many people believe that playing video games rots people’s brains. But what if playing video games – in moderation – can also help people to heal from brain injuries?
When I was going through physical withdrawal after coming off of clonazepam, I was so impaired that for many years, I could not read or write.
For a time, I couldn’t bear to look at any electronic screens. There was something about those blue screens that I just couldn’t tolerate. If you’ve ever watched a TV show on a broken television screen, that’s kind of how I experienced screens: the picture appeared pixilated and it was just too stressful for my poor, injured brain to handle.
At some point, someone suggested I start trying to “retrain my brain” to handle stress by playing simple video games. They suggested that I would be able to measure my distress tolerance by seeing how long I could play, that it would be a fun way to chart my healing process.
The game seemed easy enough to play: you simply try to get three or four or five of a one color candy in a row and try to blow up a certain number of translucent gels or collect nuts and cherries. No one was being shot at or injured, and – for some reason – the colors and shapes didn’t bother my eyes.
And while I’ve never been particularly interested in video games, I downloaded the app.
At first, I could barely play for even a minute. It was impossible for me to tolerate all the action on the screen; my eyes watered and I found my pulse rate would increase to the point of discomfort.
Instead of quitting though, I decided I would challenge myself to play every day for as long as I could.
I mean, if someone said playing video games helped him to heal, well… I was willing to give it a try.
After a while, I found I could last for one full life. Then two lives. Eventually, I was able to play long enough that I actually ran out of lives and had to wait to play another day.
Strange as it sounds, this is how I began to measure progress.
As I became more successful at the game – I could play longer with better results and less physical distress – I found a little place inside myself that reasoned that I was actually healing and that I could apply the same principle with everything.
There is something about the immediate and concrete feedback in video games (e.g., through points, coins, dead ends in puzzles) that served to reward my continual effort. In fact, research has shown that the extent to which individuals endorse an incremental versus entity theory of intelligence reliably predicts whether individuals in challenging circumstances will persist or give up, respectively (Dweck & Molden, 2005). These implicit theories of intelligence have implications for how failure is processed and dealt with.
Being immersed in Candy Crush taught me an essential basic lesson: persistence in the face of failure reaps rewards.
And my experiences of failure did not lead to anger, frustration, or sadness; instead, I responded to failures with excitement and interest and a motivation to improve my performance. When faced with failure, I was motivated to return to the task of winning, and I felt optimistic about reaching my goals.
Shortly after I started playing Candy Crush, I started painting.
At first my paintings were primitive – simple hearts and words. Over time, I tackled imaginary monsters, portraits of pets & people.
Six years later, my brain is nearly healed.
I still have some trouble with long-term planning and some memory loss between August 2013 and September 2015.
But I’m reading again.
I’m painting & participating in art festivals.
I have friends again.
A social life.
And I still play Candy Crush every day.
(PS: I’m on Level 1197, in case anyone was wondering.)
What weird thing do you believe helped you to heal when going thru difficult circumstances?