[Warning: Slight MGS4 spoiler below]
Ask yourself: Can video games be uniquely therapeutic when compared to other entertainment mediums? No other medium matches the catharsis of interaction.
Let’s take the extremely intense button-mashing sequence near the end of Metal Gear Solid 4. You must help the protagonist—Snake—pull his dilapidated body through a fiery corridor before he’s burnt to a crisp. As the clock ticks away, you must furiously mash away to assist him in his agonizingly slow progression to safety. One sweaty hand reaches forward slowly clutching the floor as a leg bends slightly to help push him forward a few inches. Bit by bit the screen glow an ominous red reminding you that death is imminent. Once I completed that particular experience and lived, I dropped my controller to the ground in need of a break! It felt like I ran a mental marathon dealing with all the emotions the sequence evoked. Nervousness, dread, anguish, excitement, and then finally relief were all there and all because of game play. No words or touching dialog to take me here and yet I felt exactly what the game wanted me to feel.
Can video games go the other direction? How about actually consoling the loss of a loved one? According to one man--who’s brother was unfortunately killed in Iraq--they can:
“I was fighting back too. Not from some watered-down, digitalized version of patriotism. I was inflicting retribution on the people and the ideas that had hurt Luis, working through my grief and my rage. It wasn't the real thing; I don't think I could survive twenty-four hours of patrolling the physical, flesh-and-blood Baghdad. But Call of Duty 4 was as close as I could get. By the time I'd reached the end, I felt a visceral sense of relief and satisfaction. And part of me thought: "This one's for you, buddy. Hooah."
"I'll Cry When I'm Done Killing" is an interesting read and I highly recommend it. Thanks goes to SVGL for the link.