Can Games Help You Overcome Your Fear?

Did you know that insects have a plan to take over the world and enslave all of humanity? What’s that? You think I’m wrong? Yeah well, my doctor says the same thing but my brain is pretty convinced about this fact. You see, I have a fear of insects, also called entomophobia. However, years of gaming have helped me cope with my fear.

Earlier this year it was announced that Fallout 4 would be releasing November 10th. To most gamers, this is a blessing. To me, it’s a curse. The Fallout franchise is without a doubt one of the best video game franchises currently on the market. It also includes a lot of huge and realistic insects which cause an entomophobe like myself to cry in fear.  When I tried to play Fallout 3, I got very sweaty and itchy all over my body, I felt a shortness of breath, and even produced uncontrollable screams at times. Seriously, sometimes I would randomly yell like a little girl. This would happen often, and it was torture.

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This is a cazador. It means hunter in Spanish. It also means nightmares and crying to my mind.

I searched through the internet and I found out I wasn’t alone. There were a ton of people who were actually also freaked out by the bugs and luckily, a variety of mods existed to get rid of them. While this was great as it meant I could finally play Fallout without any insects, it did leave a question in my mind. Should I play Fallout without the mods so I could face my fear?

In case you didn’t know, the most common way to treat phobias is through some sort of conductual therapy. In general, these involve for the person afflicted with the phobia to confront it in a safe environment. Sometimes this is done through small steps (in this case showing a bug in a cage, for example) and other times through imagination if the fear is very strong. Can video games serve this same purpose?

Well, the majority of video games actually put us in very unrealistic experiences. The majority of gamers have not been a soldier in a war, they’ve not been a part of intergalactic history, and they’ve mostly never led a team of combatants to destroy a demon-boss from hell. Even horror games, aimed to scare the player, like Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Silent Hill, offer unrealistic experiences that many players can’t immediately relate to. Sure, players can imagine themselves in those scenarios but they can’t truly understand what it feels like to be trapped in a mysterious castle with some sort of monster chasing after you.

On the other hand, players can easily relate to simple fears like those depicted in their phobias. Horror games are scary to most but to an entomophobe, Fallout is the scariest game franchise that exists. Similarly, to a kenophobe (fear of open spaces) LSD is a nightmare, and to an arachnophobe (fear of spiders) games like Legend of Zelda or Minecraft are terrifying. In these experiences, gamers feel the same fear that they feel in real life because, even if the world or the rest of the game is not something they’ve experienced before, they perfectly understand what it feels like to confront their deepest fears because they also exist in real life.

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Lack of walls or ceiling (meaning to end in sight) are very terrifying for kenophobes. These kind of scenarios also compose the majority of LSD.

However, where games differ from real life is the fact that they are safe (the player never actually suffers from physical harm) and they can easily empower a player. To an arachnophobe, spiders might be terrifying when armed with a newspaper but when given a mythical sword made by the elders in Skyrim, those puny spiders seem much weaker and thus less scary.

This could actually be the best way to confront one’s fears, especially done with the help of a professional. In fact, this doesn’t stop at simple phobias, traumatic events can also be dealt with in similar kind of ways. Similar to how many rape victims use sadomasochist sexual experiences to feel empowered during the act of sexual intercourse, gamers can relive traumatic experiences with more empowering assets, all while doing so in a safe environment.

I personally tried this myself with my entomophobia by playing less realistic games with insects such as Borderlands and then moving up when I felt comfortable with the insects there. No, I am not “cured,” but I can now play Fallout without shortness of breath or random screams. Okay, maybe a few, but they’re mostly gone.

All in all, if you’re someone with a phobia, it’s worth allowing video games to act as a bridge in helping you overcome your nightmares. Sure, legitimate fears can really hurt and make life hard, but now we have beautiful simulators to help those in need. They are fun too, which is a great reward for overcoming one’s fears. Maybe video games can be good after all.

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