Editorial: Game Healing

It is really hard to make a tile tactics game look exciting in a screenshot.
Terra Battle pits your squares against other squares!

Many moons ago, our own Chief Resident Mel penned an excellent look at gaming and the recovery process. Ethos appears to be experiencing this notion first hand at the moment. Should one have not been successful in deciphering the oblique references to my damaged hand, I have been going through a similar gaming treatment for over a month. When the calendar turn its page to March, I suffered a work injury that forced me to stay home for weeks. Given that I enjoy my job, and it provides mental health benefits specific to my needs, it was absolutely necessary to turn to gaming and keep my brain occupied. This week, I would like to revisit the idea that gaming can be beneficial for folks on the mend, while exploring my thoughts on the titles that I decided to dig into while I had the time…on my hands. Ugh.

For the first week of my injury, my left hand was a useless ball of bandage and blood. Thankfully, this modern age provides a video gaming outlet for those with a hobbled limb. Steeped in foul atrocities as the mobile market may be, there are some quality gems gleaming with the glint of refreshing sunlight through the murk. One such title, in this writer’s opinion, is Terra Battle, which probably comes as no real surprise given how long it has topped charts and continues to see activity with the concept of a “download starter,” a sort of crowd-sourcing effort that asks for no money while promising additional content so long as the downloads keep coming. Hironobu Sakaguchi, of Final Fantasy fame, heads the Mystwalker team, bringing a polished tile tactics game to smartphones, even bringing on names like Nobuo Uematsu, making this the first mobile game where I did not feel the need to turn the music off.

Terra Battle served up some nice, simple mechanics to strategically employ while I huddled on my couch trying to ignore the throbbing. I could argue that the game is almost too easy, particularly in the early stages, but in retrospect I believe I enjoyed it so much because I did not have to wrack my brain, which was distracted enough with pain as it was. With each battle taking less than a minute to figure out, it was not demanding, but remained enjoyable and became my default activity when my books, amazing as they were, started to put me to sleep. Terra Battle, in a way, served as a welcome respite during a time when my mental faculties were not firing on all cylinders.

There is something to be said about simple distraction when it comes to dealing with pain. I will not waste the time of Lusipurr readers by explaining how this works, given that they are intelligent folk who have very likely already experienced this in their own lives. What I have found odd is that only certain types of distractions will work for me, and to that end, they must not be overly complicated. My brain was packaged with an anxiety attack mechanism, which is something I have learned to deal with in many ways, one of them being crossword puzzles. Yet, doing a crossword puzzle when feeling persistent physical pain is not on my list of home remedies. I am unable to concentrate properly on them, and they result in additional frustration. This is probably why many turn to television when ill or injured; there is not a lot of mental acuity necessary for it to be enjoyed. That is not to say Terra Battle is a dumb game, but it is certainly not chess by any stretch of the imagination, another game which I found extremely difficult to perform in while the pain levels were high.

And that's when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side, from the two other jaggies you didn't even know were there.
MH4U: You get your first look at this “six foot turkey” as you enter a clearing. He moves like a bird, lightly, bobbing his head… “

The minute some of the irritation subsided and I regained at least partial use of my left hand, Bravely Default needed to be finished. Again, I would argue that Bravely Default is not a game that requires an immense amount of thought to play, but there certainly was more strategic thinking here, and a great story to follow. It would be unfair to compare it directly to Terra Battle, of course, since both games drastically differ in scope and practice, but with it I had moved into the realm of nearly being able to forget I was recovering from an injury in the first place. I brought this up to my Occupational Therapist later, and she confessed that patients with similar injuries in the past had sworn that operating a game controller helped with dexterity recovery, and while she personally has never seen hard data on the matter, she agrees that there is likely some truth to this. Anecdotal evidence at best, sure, but I figured I would move on to something that required faster fingers.

Just before making the move to Vita, I tried out Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. While the game did push my depleted button skills to the max, it unfortunately suffered greatly from the touch screen camera controls on the old 3DS. I did my best to keep up, but between sluggish physical response and the confining feeling of the controls on the old system, there was no fun to be had here. This was disappointing, because outside of those limitations, I can see where this would be a terrific game to own on the New 3DS. That it was release on the old system almost seemed like a mistake.

Which is a lot of good things, really.
Child’s Play founders Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, doing what they do.

With a cheap Vita in my possession, Persona 4 Golden became the catch of the day. What a treat that game was! It was at this point that I could fully forget about my aching fingers and immerse myself into probably one of the best value experiences I have had, right up there with Bravely Default. The pacing teased my bored mind with a murder mystery to solve, and provided plenty of ways to approach challenges and party strategies. My brain was starting to feel active in a fun way again, and in turn, that made me feel healthier. That is the interesting part to me and largely why I support things like Child’s Play, a charity with the goal of improving the lives of hospitalized children through gaming. I have felt the misery of having extended hospital stays as a child, and while I do not dare compare what I went through to what those kids go through, it does give me insight as to just what a wonderful thing Child’s Play is doing for them. I will never say that gaming is a surefire way to end suffering, but there is weight to the idea of providing fun and psychology active entertainment to a young patient. Let them at least have some idea of being a kid, because in their situations, they are confronted with some very daunting adult realities.

At the risk of letting this article go all higgledy piggledy, there is one last title I would like to mention, though I only started playing it a few days ago, just before I got the news that my hand strength and range of motion was back, allowing me to return to work. Freedom Wars is firmly lodged in the cartridge slot of my Vita, and probably will remain there for awhile. This game gets some things wrong, but it also gets many things right, though I wish to save those specifics for a future article when I have invested more hours. For now, of note, was the initial atmosphere I was greeted with. In Freedom Wars, the player is a prisoner, and must fight for resources to be donated to their chosen Panopticon. I really want to talk at length about this, as it is something that has interested me since my psych major days, but I will save it.

This is sort of what staying home every day for a few weeks felt like.
Even in prison, Anime hair is allowed.

They do an excellent job of making sure the player actually does feel confined under varied and sometimes ridiculous restrictions, which one can earn one’s way out of by earning Entitlement Points. Despite this claustrophobic fictional prison, the game was engaging enough to actually distract me from the anxious feelings building inside as the day approach when the doctor would evaluate whether or not I could return to work. This is helpful in a way that might be difficult for some to understand, but ramping myself up like that before some final tests and trials is, I have found, a great way to ensure my failure. At any rate, the control scheme is complicated, perhaps asking more of the Vita’s physical limitations than it can handle, but I found myself determined to learn how to fight in the damned thing, and show this game what for. There is certainly some feeling of reward to be had here, which is why I think the folks who liked it so much stuck with it. In the end, that is a healthy mental response.

Just in case you are still reading, let us talk times in our lives when gaming worked as an act of healing. In his old article, Mel is right when he notes that gaming is continually demonized, and I often fear that it must get worse before it gets better. Games as part of the recovery process is something that is being increasingly explored, as our lives have become inundated with them, and it is my hope to see more study on this, allowing society to yield better results…mostly because if I ever end up in a nursing home, I had damned well better have a game system.

2 comments

  1. More games need to have options for a one-handed game mode. This is something that PKMN has done a few times, and a few other titles, and I’d like to see it more often when it is practicable and possible. When I broke my right thumb a few years ago, just about the only game I could play was PKMN!

  2. Accommodation of physical handicap is an interesting thing in gaming. A few MUDs employ things like audio cues and speech-to-text to help vision-impaired players. There’s also been some interesting attempts to bring full controller capability into a one-handed peripheral. Something like controlling a left stick by using one’s knee sounds a bit awkward, but I could probably get used to it if I had to. I think the big issue is bringing these items to those who need them at an affordable price.

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