The Power of Gaming to Build Resilience

Dec 15 2020

Rosemary Lokhorst

Rosemary Lokhorst, creator of self-help game Shadow’s Edge, encourages us that sometimes we need more than the real world to let go and find ourselves – that is the power of gaming.

In 2020 we have seen a worldwide epidemic cripple our economy, and halt the lives of millions of people, causing lasting impact on people’s livelihood, social lives and mental health. 

Jane McGonical predicted in 2010 that if we reach a critical mass of gaming hours, we can solve the world’s biggest problems like climate change or poverty. Today, 2.6 billion players play hours on end to save virtual worlds. So why are we not using gaming more often to address real world problems like mental health, as Jane suggests?

For many players, gaming isn’t just entertainment, it is part of their daily lives. It’s not just entertainment for them, but a way to connect to friends, relax or forget life for a while. The way coders identify as Geeks, young people that play games often call themselves Gamers. Of course, that is not the largest part of young people that play. But, playing games is something that is cool among peers, much more so than using a therapeutic application, for example.

Sometimes you need more than the real world to let go and find yourself. That is the power of gaming: it draws the player into a virtual world and provides immersive experiences that can teach lessons about real life, too.

A study of 5,000 boys and girls revealed that children who spent almost an hour per day gaming were happier, less hyperactive, more adjustable and social than those who didn’t play at all (BBC).

And there are more examples of how gaming is a powerful tool to improve quality of life:

  • Better Decision Making – Action video games train the brain’s neurons in making faster and more accurate decisions (Medical Express).
  • Dream Control – Gamers are far more likely to have dreams that they can consciously control than those who don’t play. It is also used therapeutically to analyze and battle nightmares, phobias and fears (PsyPost).
  • Trauma Management – An Oxford study suggests that playing Tetris after a traumatic incident reduces the chance of developing traumatic memories by keeping the mind occupied from reliving the incident (
  • Effective + Alternative Therapy – Video games used as therapy for fighting depression and other psychological problems in teenagers has proven more effective than counselling. Depression is one of the psychological problems seen in both teenagers and adults that affects their quality of life and increases their psychological stress. In a study conducted with 168 teenagers, half were assigned to play SPRAX and the other half were assigned to attend traditional therapy. The first half were able to battle depression much faster, with 44% even completely cured, when compared to the other half. The excitement of the game can help people fight self-consciousness and feelings of inadequacy (TIME).
  • In Shadow’s Edge, a study shows that young people playing the game for only three times a week for six weeks have more optimism, a more positive self-identity and are able to handle emotions better, making them more resilient. Players felt more real, felt more encouraged to reach out and connect and felt more validated in their feelings.

Looking at these examples, it becomes clear that we can channel the power influence of games into immersive experiences that enable young audiences to learn new skills for personal development and emotional strength to face today’s challenges.

What do we need to get traction for using games to positively impact emotional strength? We see from our work that there is still a stigma around mental health and often a clear difference between who you are and who you portray to the world. With our game, players can address their struggles in private, without fear of stigma – after all, they are simply playing a game!

From our extensive user research in two years of developing Shadow’s Edge with and for young people that are facing hard times in their lives, we see that players are reluctant to reach out to their families for help, not wanting to burden them oftentimes.

I believe, therefore, that getting games like Shadow’s Edge adopted into school counselling programs and used alongside classic therapy programs is a good approach to getting tools like this in the hands of young people that need it. To get there, young people playing the game and giving feedback through testing programs, but also just simply by reviewing Shadow’s Edge will help healthcare professionals be able to evaluate the potential of games to empower people to build skills in virtual worlds that they can apply in real life.


Thank you to our guest contributor and XPRIZE Connect supporter, Rosemary Lokhorst, an award-winning entrepreneur, game producer and Women in Games Ambassador. Learn more about her work with the Digging Deep Project and the self-help game Shadow’s Edge at

Rosemary Lokhorst