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Could Video Games Be Used For Anger Management?

When I was younger, I had a bit of a temper. When things didn't go my way, I'd get angry, I'd hit things. I'd punch a table, throw a controller...that sort of stuff. As I grew older, I learned to reign in my emotions a bit. I learned how to exert a bit more control over my mental state; a little more discipline where my thoughts and feelings were concerned. Sounds like a pretty ordinary part of growing up, yeah? 

Thing is, not everyone is able to do that, and there were - and still are - a great many children who made my frustration look tame by comparison. Untreated, those children will often as not grow up into angry, embittered, and potentially abusive adults, whose emotions rage out of control on a regular basis with no end in sight.  Treatment can often be difficult, especially in children, whose minds aren't quite equipped to deal with certain problems. 

 

There's a new treatment method just over the horizon, though - and it might be just what the doctor ordered. 

Last year, the Boston Children's hospital took a rather novel approach to treating children suffering from anger issues, with a research study that made use of video games as a treatment tool. Researchers in the study developed a game known as "RAGE Control," after noticing that children are incredibly eager to play video games. One group of children were given RAGE Control to play, while the others were subjected to more traditional treatment methods. 

The game's pretty simple: players are tasked with shooting down enemy spaceships while avoiding friendly ships. The catch, of course, is that players wear a monitor attached to their finger. This monitor tracks their heart rate and displays it on-screen. When their heart rate goes above a certain level, players will lose their ability to shoot at their foes. In order to actually win the game, then, children need to learn to keep calm.

"The connections between the brain's executive control centers and emotional control centers are weak in people with severe anger problems," explains Gonzalez-Heydrich, Boston Children's Chief of Psychopharmacology. "However, to succeed at RAGE Control, players have to learn to use these centers at the same time to score points." 

The results were rather telling. After just five sessions, children in the group that played RAGE control were significantly better at keeping their heart rates down, while showing significant decreases in anger scores on the State Trait Anger Expresion Inventory-Child and Adolescent (STAXI-CA).

Alright. So it's pretty clear that games can be used to influence the minds of the younger generation for the better, teaching them valuable emotional skills. What about those adults who weren't lucky enough to participate in such a study? What of all the grown men and women suffering the slings and arrows of their own fury? Could games potentially be used to the same effect?

It's certainly possible. I'd say it's definitely something that warrants further study.  Perhaps once RAGE Control becomes more wide-spread, researchers and health care professionals could look into applying the treatment for adults. Alternatively, why not develop a computer peripheral of some kind that either shuts down your system or disconnects your mouse/keyboard when your heart rate gets too high? Same basic effect, and it might teach people to regulate themselves better online.

Worth a shot, right? 

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Nicholas Greene
Nick's Games Haven
InventorSpot.com
Follow me on Twitter @OmniscientSpork