Games as Therapy in Higher Education 

Mental health is a conversation that seems to be ever growing with more and more people speaking out about their experiences. Celebrities and royals have taken to talking about their struggles in order to raise awareness of issues such as anxiety and depression and even this morning, BBC news have reported on the fact that about 300,000 people leave their jobs each year citing mental health issues as the cause: BBC News. That’s a hell of a lot of people and a massive strain on the work force.

It’s no secret that academia is absolutely rife with depression and anxiety either: Academic Mental Health. How could it not be.. egos, work pressures, performance anxieties and just generally navigating the high level of criticism that comes with being in a higher education environment. Both staff and students are getting to the point where it is just too much… in some extreme cases there have been suicide attempts because of the inescapable feeling of pressure and despair. A very sad state of affairs and indication that we are failing somewhere in this space that is meant to be about nurturing and helping people to grow.

I myself am no stranger to the black dog and I know several others particularly in academia that are still fighting it. We joke and shrug and a lot of the time there is very much a ‘we ll get through this approach’ and yes, an acceptance that this is how it should be. But I’ve seen colleagues and students alike, question themselves, their abilities and their worth until unfortunately they then shrink away until you barely know they are there. It short… it sucks ass big time. I honestly don’t know how else to describe this seemingly growing problem. At least we are now beginning to see this talked about in the wider sense, because something somewhere has to change.
It did get me thinking though about how we  view and approach developing games for education. I know personally I’ve always been more interested in how can we use games and play to attain better learning experiences for our students. I am definitely of a mindset that deeper learning can be achieved with gbl. But I think maybe I’ve been missing a crucial aspect, another benefit of the use of games /play in higher education.. we and our students should play for our mental health. Both for an immediate outlet and for learning how to cope with these pressures for later life.

There are loads of people out there using games and play for therapeutic reasons. DnD for example is used to help children (and adults) to open up and explore their feelings DND therapy. Various studies have been conducted on how playful behaviour and playing games helps relieve stress and helps us to build relationships Play benefits.  It’s definitely not a new idea, just one that I never hear talked about when we consider games in colleges or universities. Feeling alone or unsupported with mounting pressures could possibly be helped just by feeling connected to other people for a short while…possibly. What better way than games to achieve this.

So maybe we, as playful and gameful developers in education should be actively looking to discuss and research the psychological benefits of using games and play in higher education both for students and staff alongside the traditional does this aid learning approach we usually adopt. I’m certainly going to be exploring this further and am quite interested to see what others are doing out there on this idea of using play /games as coping mechanisms in higher ed. It would be an interesting example to add to the list of usual things to say in response to; but why games for education? Maybe, just maybe… if we can use playful platforms as an outlet for stress, anxiety and depression, we may find some interesting avenues to help cope with the stresses of working and studying in higher education and thus arming ourselves and our students with some coping mechanisms for future work endeavours.

I have used all my spoons for today now. 

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