Therapeutic Potential of Cooperative Games

The integration of video games into therapeutic practice has emerged as a cutting-edge approach in mental health care. Nintendo Switch’s cooperative games offer a unique opportunity to engage clients in therapy, enhancing essential skills like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and creativity. This comprehensive guide explores these games, providing insights into how therapists can utilize them.

Applying Therapeutic Strategies to Gaming

Therapists can align gaming experiences with therapy goals while boosting creativity and cooperation.

These cute and creative game can help build rapport and engagement by solving puzzles, enhancing spatial reasoning, creativity, and cooperation skills. It can also help clients boost confidence and foster a sense of belonging.

Strategies include:

  • Sharing creative ideas with partners and praising efforts.
  • Challenging negative thoughts and beliefs, such as “I’m not good enough.”
  • Encouraging expression of feelings and empathic listening.
More specific therapy goals for anxiety, depression, and emotional regulation include:
  • Rating Anxiety Levels: By asking clients to rate their anxiety before and after gameplay, therapists can track progress and make necessary adjustments.
  • Identifying Triggers and Coping Strategies: Recognizing in-game triggers such as time pressure and devising coping mechanisms can translate to real-life scenarios.
  • Encouraging Relaxation Techniques: Integrating deep breathing or mindfulness during gameplay promotes relaxation.
  • Sharing Creative Ideas and Solutions: This strategy boosts confidence and fosters a sense of belonging.
  • Challenging Negative Thoughts and Beliefs: Therapists can help clients replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations.
  • Expressing Feelings and Needs: By encouraging clients to communicate emotions and empathy, therapists can build stronger connections.

Top Cooperative Games and Their Therapeutic Benefits

Overcooked 2: Enhancing Communication and Stress Management

A chaotic and hilarious game where you have to work together to cook and serve dishes in various kitchens, Overcooked 2 can help clients practice communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and stress management skills. It can also help clients cope with anxiety by providing a fun distraction, a sense of connection, and a positive outlet for emotions. Here’s how it can be applied:

  • Rating anxiety levels before and after playing to notice changes.
  • Identifying triggers of anxiety, such as time pressure, and coping strategies.
  • Encouraging relaxation techniques like deep breathing during the game.

Therapeutic Focus: Enhancing communication and stress management.

  • Therapists can use this game to help clients practice calm communication and role delegation under pressure. It’s an engaging way to work on assertiveness and listening skills.
  • Therapy Example 1: A couple struggling with communication plays the game together, learning to delegate tasks and express needs clearly.
  • Therapy Example 2: A therapy group uses the game’s pressure-cooker scenarios to practice calm communication under stress, reflecting on how dynamics in the game relate to real-world team challenges.
Luigi’s Mansion 3: Fostering Courage and Collaboration

Exploring a haunted hotel and capturing ghosts in Luigi’s Mansion 3 can practice exploration, curiosity, courage, and collaboration skills.

It can expose clients to a safe environment, encouraging them to face challenges with support. 

  • Strategies include:
    • Describing sensations while playing to increase awareness.
    • Setting realistic goals for each session and celebrating progress.
    • Asking for and offering help to reinforce teamwork and trust.
  • Therapeutic Focus: Enhancing problem-solving skills and exploration.
  • This game can be used to teach strategies to overcome obstacles, which can be translated into overcoming challenges in daily life.
  • Therapy Example 1: A family works together to solve puzzles in the game, reflecting on how they can apply similar strategies to address conflicts at home.
  • Therapy Example 2: Individuals in a therapy group explore the haunted mansion, learning how to face fears and overcome obstacles together.
Rocket League

Therapeutic Focus: Building teamwork and strategic planning.

  • By encouraging clear roles and game strategies, therapists can help clients build real-world collaboration skills.
  • Therapy Example 1: A youth therapy group uses the game to enhance cooperation and shared decision-making among peers.
  • Therapy Example 2: An individual struggling with social skills plays Rocket League with the therapist, focusing on teamwork and role clarity.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Therapeutic Focus: Fostering creativity and long-term planning. 

  • This game offers opportunities to design shared spaces and discuss planning and design processes that relate to personal or career goals.
  • Therapy Example: An individual working on career planning designs a village, drawing parallels to real-world goal setting.
  • Therapy Example 2: A family uses Animal Crossing to foster collaboration and creativity, working on a shared project within the game.
Splatoon 2

Therapeutic Focus: Encouraging adaptive thinking and flexibility.

  • Adapting to real-time challenges in the game can help develop flexible thinking, translating to more adaptive responses to life’s unexpected events.
  • Therapy Example 1: A client working on adaptability and resilience practices responding to in-game challenges, reflecting on how to apply these skills in real life.
  • Therapy Example 2: A therapy group uses Splatoon 2 to work on adaptive responses and flexibility, discussing how in-game strategies can be applied to life’s unexpected events.
Hypothetical Case Examples
  • Example 1: A teenager with social anxiety finds connection and communication skills through playing Overcooked 2 with a friend online, guided by the therapist.
  • Example 2: A couple learns to compromise and express their feelings more openly by engaging in Snipperclips puzzles, fostering a deeper understanding of each other’s needs.

Sources, Recommendations, and Considerations

Therapists looking to explore further have numerous other games for engaging gameplay and therapeutic potential:

  • Monster Hunter Rise: Collaboration and strategic planning
  • Fortnite: Teamwork and communication
  • Stardew Valley: Long-term planning and cooperation
  • Moving Out: A moving simulation game focusing on teamwork

Nintendo Switch’s rich library of cooperative games provides a unique opportunity to integrate entertainment into therapeutic practice. By connecting in-game experiences to real-world scenarios, therapists can create engaging and meaningful therapy sessions that promote skill development and personal growth. By exploring these avenues, therapists can offer fresh and effective methods in mental health care.

Here’s a summary of research and literature that supports the use of video games in a therapeutic setting, as described in the article:

  • Video Games and Therapy for Anxiety and Stress Reduction:
    • Rieger, D., Frischlich, L., & Bente, G. (2017). Media use and the change of cognitive coping strategies after life crises. Media Psychology, 20(2), 317-340.
    • This study suggests that video games can be used as coping tools, allowing individuals to develop cognitive strategies to deal with stress and anxiety.
  • Enhancing Communication and Teamwork Skills:
    • Griffiths, M. D., Kuss, D. J., & Ortiz de Gortari, A. B. (2017). Videogames as therapy: An updated selective review of the medical and psychological literature. International Journal of Privacy and Health Information Management (IJPHIM), 5(2), 71-96.
    • This review highlights how cooperative video games can foster communication and teamwork skills, which may be applicable in a therapeutic context.
  • Video Games for Cognitive Rehabilitation:
    • Anguera, J. A., Boccanfuso, J., Rintoul, J. L., Al-Hashimi, O., Faraji, F., Janowich, J., … & Gazzaley, A. (2013). Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults. Nature, 501(7465), 97-101.
    • This research supports the idea that video games can be used to enhance cognitive skills, including problem-solving and adaptive thinking.
  • Video Games in Family Therapy:
    • Escobar-Viera, C. G., Shensa, A., Bowman, N. D., Sidani, J. E., Knight, J., James, A. E., & Primack, B. A. (2018). Passive and active social media use and depressive symptoms among United States adults. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 21(7), 437-443.
    • This study includes insights into how gaming can be integrated into family therapy, fostering communication, cooperation, and shared understanding.
  • Therapeutic Applications of Serious Games in Mental Health:
    • Fleming, T. M., Bavin, L., Stasiak, K., Hermansson-Webb, E., Merry, S. N., Cheek, C., … & Hetrick, S. (2017). Serious games and gamification for mental health: Current status and promising directions. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 7, 215.
    • This review explores the growing field of serious games and gamification for mental health, supporting the potential of video games in therapeutic interventions.
  • General Review of Video Games in Therapy:
    • Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. C. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66.
    • This review paper provides an overview of the psychological benefits of video games, including cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social benefits.

These sources validate the concept of using video games in therapy and support the integration of gaming into mental health care. However, it’s essential to recognize that each therapeutic case is unique, and therapists should carefully consider the appropriateness of these tools for individual clients.

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