Games: Just what the doctor ordered

Quebec researchers use Half-Life, Unreal Tournament to help treat phobias.

While many voices in the United States blame games for inspiring violent behavior, researchers in Canada are finding what many gamers knew all along: Playing games can be therapeutic. An article in today's New Scientist cites a study at the University of Quebec that found psychiatric patients' phobias were reduced after hours of playing first-person shooters.

Specifically, researchers used games as a form of "exposure therapy," which is the practice of helping patients overcome their fears by exposing them to their phobias in small, controlled doses. Arachnophobes were given the spider levels in Half-Life to play, while Unreal Tournament levels were used to treat those with claustrophobia and fear of heights. (No word on whether Grand Theft Auto was beneficial for road rage sufferers.)

The most important windfall from the study could be financial, since games could provide a cheap alternative to the expensive virtual reality equipment used in exposure therapy.

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