From simple side-scrollers to open-world, massive multiplayer, online-roleplays, video games have always been about providing endless hours of entertainment.

But lately, some video games have struck a deeper cord with players. Tackling emotional issues of disease, relationships and mental illness, these adventures get gamers’ hearts racing long before encountering any boss battles.

Battling more than your average fire-breathing dragon, gamers take on That Dragon, Cancer, a PC game developed by Ryan and Amy Green. The adventure game that acts as an interactive retelling of the creators’ experience raising their son, Joel, who has terminal cancer, according to the game’s website.

That Dragon, Cancer could be loosely summarized as the experience of having a terminally ill child and coping with the process of saying goodbye,” said Ron Weaver, technical production director of UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy.

Weaver also talked about the PC game, The Marriage, created by Rod Humble. “It is an experimental game that uses metaphor to explore the life and death of a marriage,” he said.

HellBlade is a game developed by Ninja Theory that will tackle the topic of mental illness, and will be released for PlayStation 4 and PC in 2016. The game follows the story of a Celtic warrior named Senua as she struggles with her own mental illness. The demons and monsters that players fight throughout the game are physical manifestations of Senua’s mental illness.

Product development representative of Ninja Theory, Dominic Matthews, gave an overview of HellBlade in a live-coverage interview with PlayStation at E3.

“The story is about Senua’s journey into hell. ... The hell in question is the manifestation of her own mental illness. So the world around her is one that the player sees through her eyes, and to her it’s entirely a reality,” Matthews said. “She is fighting against a Viking clan, but seen through her eyes when she’s experiencing psychosis.”

In addition to thought-provoking and emotionally stimulating gameplay and story lines, video games have been used as practical tools.

“I’ve been doing research in the area of serious games for several years now. I’ve focused mostly on games for training or teaching; with some work in therapeutic games,” said Clint Bowers, a director at UCF RESTORES, a clinical research center that uses new and existing technologies to treat anxiety disorders. One treatment program uses a virtual reality software to treat soldiers and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although video games have undergone a massive overhaul since the early days of Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros., they have oftentimes been under scrutiny for causing social isolation and violent behaviors.

“The concern I have is with excessive use of video games and possible associated social isolation. Though some games may allow you to communicate with other players, the loss of face-to-face interactions is proven to be detrimental to one’s mental health,” said Dr. James Schaus, associate director of clinical services at Student Health Services.

To address this, Schaus suggests gaming in moderation and preserving or increasing personal interaction with others.

It has also been argued that video games could cause violent behaviors in children, teens and gamers. However, the research of Chris Ferguson, a UCF alumnus and chair of Psychology at Stetson University, suggests otherwise.

“Overall I found that, with other factors controlled, there was little evidence that either video games generally, or violent games specifically had an influence on children’s well-being,” said Ferguson, who recently researched the impact of video games on childhood aggression and violence.


Eric Gutierrez is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter @atticus_adrift or email him at

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