Video Game Characters give us Hope
I was Mario, Link, and a number of heroes in the video games of my youth. Although I knew I was literally not these pixely creations, part of them formed part of me. My actions and quests created an interesting bond with the character, and made the character more intimate. To this day, I am still a fan of the Hero of Hyrule (aka Link), and I strive to live courageously battling for the good in the world like he does.
Moreover, I am not alone. Part of the reason perhaps that video game characters are becoming some of the most recognizable cultural icons is because we live their stories in an incredibly intimate, and life altering way. We latch onto not only their story, but also the heroes' actions, thoughts, and feelings. While there is a danger in becoming “lost” in the virtual rewards, or over indulge in these rewards, there is some profit to be gained by living out our ideal selves in a virtual way.
Video Game Avatars and the Self
It's no secret that video games give users an alter ego experience, in fact this alter identity is so powerful that it can sometimes suck users into a world away from their daily life. However, the alter ego can also help empower the player to change the world. And in this way, games can help heal.
If we think about the self, there are really three forms including actual, ideal and ought. The ideal self relates to our goals and wishes, our ought relates to the sense of duty and obligation (things we should do) and the actual self is well self-explanatory. The question is whether video games can positively alter our actual selves by placing in us contexts that foster a particular kind of ideal self. A study was recently done that sought to being to answer this question.
Study shows video game characters help us act out our ideal selves
In this recent study, around 136 20-year old male students at a University in the United States were asked to fill out a questionnaire before and after playing a video game on whether or not they would be likely to give or help out at a charity (Seung, 2011). The students who played a video gamed focused on kill or be killed, or making sure one did one's duty to survive, it was shown that the ought self was engaged, and but in doing things that did not correspond to the players hopes, or ideal self, the players often rated their experience of flow as decreased. Moreover, when students were given a game in which they were responsible for saving people using surgery, it was shown that there sense of generosity also increased as a result. Their conclusions seemed to indicate a deeper engagement with the game when players felt their avatar was acting out a similar hoped-for or ideal self (ibid).
Games that help us overcome illness and injury
A deep connection between the players hopes and their avatar may prove an area in which patients might benefit or heal from. A recent site called SuperBetter, takes the notion of boss fights, personal quests, and ideal avatars to another extreme. Started by a video game designer and survivor of a traumatic brain injury, this website helps individuals set goals and connect with friends to solve all manner of problems from traumatic physical injuries to physiological issues (stress, anxiety, etc.). The broad ability for accountability from the online community, and a superhero identity that you get to take on, make SuperBetter a “game” that transforms players into self-efficacious healers.
As the trend for more interactive video games continues, the role of the hoped for or ideal self, will continue to help a wide range of players grow and flourish in the midst of online communities. The new communities, and healing programs of the next century will involve similar integrative approaches that utilized these dreams, and help players visualize their ends in order to attain healing and personal happiness.
Seung, Annie Jin. “My Avatar Behaves Well and This Feels Right: Ideal and ought selves in video gaming.” Boston College, MA, USA. Social behavior and personality, 2011, 39(9), 1175-1182. http://dx.doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2011.39.9.1175