A recent study published by assistant professor Jaime Banks (Ph.D., Colorado State University) and teaching assistant professor John G. Cole (M.A., West Virginia University) of West Virginia University’s seemed to suggest video games may be used as a coping practice for military personnel. In the research, both Jaime Banks and John G. Cole seem to highlight the potential relief an interactive experience might provide service members who face challenges coping with daily life. Jaime Banks seemed to have identified this connection through observing family members who found relief through playing video games. This connection may have related to Jamie Banks’ previous research on communication technology and human identity which may have encouraged the assistant professor to look closer at the effect video games may be having.
In the publication which explores this relationship, it seems the researchers set out to understand how everyday gaming might benefit military veterans coping strategies to improve their psychological health. Together, Jamie Banks and John G. Cole set out to monitor active duty U.S military personal alongside veterans who use video games. The pair gathered large volumes of data on each individual’s experience, video game routines and the titles which they may have played. The publication claims the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops III (Treyarch, 2015) was the top-selling console game of its year. Beyond this title, the research conducted seems to have noted the volume of military-themed titles which sold well. In their research, Jamie Banks and John G. Cole note many of the military scenarios depicted in these titles only present a limited experience. They state it may be “through these limited depictions, civilian gamers may effectively tour military identities” and sidestep many of the elements military service may actually require.
This bespoke presentation presented in a video game, one seemingly tailored for entertainment purposes, actually aided veterans through coping mechanisms such as escapism. In addition to escapism being a key factor in the coping experience, the study suggests social support may also be found through the multiplayer component of many titles. These aspects may aid military personnel in connecting with civilian life by use of video games as a medium. Jamie Banks and John G. Cole report many of the individuals they observed seemed to favour the fantasy genre most, with military-themed titles in second. It’s also suggested the structure provided by a video game, such as having a set of rules or consistent mechanics, may provide comfort when contrast to the unpredictability of civilian life.
The research seems to highlight the common theme of individuals using video games as a means of escapism. It seems titles which feature an avatar may also help military personnel cope by providing them with an avenue to express themselves. This may be achieved by creating an avatar who is the hero in a story or perhaps one who prefers to demonstrate their proficiency amongst an online community. Jamie Banks and John G. Cole state, “Since personal agency may drive active coping (Thoits, 2006), game avatars as surrogate agents may support catharsis by safely facilitating active participation.” The world of interactive entertainment seems to continuously grow and the number of titles available may continue to expand, potentially providing more avenues for the medium to be used as a coping mechanism. At this point, both Jamie Banks and John G. Cole aim to conduct further research into the relationship between military veterans and how they might use video games to adapt to civilian life.
How might interactive forms of escapism encourage healthy mental wellbeing in military veterans?