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Advances in neuroscience-based understanding of mental distress and ill-health point strongly to the need for more precise understanding of how body, brain and environment interact. Moreover, if we are to develop sustainable, useful and widely applicable approaches to mitigating mental distress, it is increasingly clear that focusing on any single one of these factors – brain, body, environment – will be inadequate.
We suggest that the exciting developments in technology that are beginning to enable precise and convenient measures of individuals’ physical and physiological states can be combined with our knowledge of how the brain processes these physical and physiological signals in order to generate new insights into how negative emotions and mental distress can be represented and controlled.
Crucially, the exquisite skills of games designers in creating compelling worlds and narratives offer optimal contexts within which individuals can experience and learn about these body-brain interactions, developing the skills to recognise and control them and, as a consequence, to profoundly change their experiences for the better. Individually-sensitive and responsive game mechanics will offer unique and enjoyable personalised training that can be generalised to the everyday world with a consequent improvement in mental well-being.
Over the last decade the games industry has advanced real-time technology such as virtual avatars, human-computer interfaces, machine learning, data analytics, online technology and engagement strategies to a level that is grossly underestimated by those unfamiliar with the innovation present in modern videogames. Applying these methods and technologies to solve a real-world problem is especially exciting given the successful precedent of collaboration between game-makers, scientists and mental health consultants on Hellblade.
This is a new kind of clinical science, one that recognises the need to move away from the laboratory and to harness the creative skills of game makers as well as the capacity of gameplay as a means to learn about and reframe our understanding of the world and ourselves. It will be innovative and creative but will adhere to scientific principles of ethics, governance and open dissemination of data and results.