Video Game Psychology: Summary for Therapists, May 2015

Here are two of the major games that release in May of 2015. Please note additional games release for various systems including handheld devices, mobile phones, etc. These are only a few of the games that release and are generally considered the “bigger’ releases, likely to be played or seen by a larger audience. Video game psychology is an increasingly popular field and it is valuable for therapists across various disciplines to become familiar with the content.

The use of video games in therapy has been a natural evolution or transition of “play therapy” with the added benefits of immediate feedback and opportunity for in depth conversation about their favorite characters. It also carries the benefit of opening the discussing as play therapy for children and adolescents, with the addition that the average gamer in 2015 is in their 30’s. You’re opening doors for conversation with younger clients and with adults.

Photo Credit: Ben Andreas Harding

Photo Credit: Ben Andreas Harding

Gardner (1991) identified benefits that were observed specifically in the therapeutic setting, which included the development of problem-solving strategies, perceiving and foreseeing consequences of behavior, eye-hand coordination, and mutual coordination of activities when playing cooperatively with others.

By focusing on these developmental (positive) skills in therapy, the benefits include; developing rapport and a stronger relationship with the patient or client, motivating the client to discuss interpersonal factors that are they can relate to in the video game as it compares to their lived experience, and it will assist the therapist in understanding the traits of the client or patient that they identify as the most important. The development of self-esteem is key.

Now, we are focused on the video games that release in May of 2015. There are two major titles that I have observed being in the forefront of discussion in therapy. There are several games that release this month, but these two are most likely to create “buzz” or conversation. One is the Witcher 3 Wild Hunt, and the other is Project Cars.

The Witcher series has always been touted as an adult role-playing game, and the rating provided by the ESRB is listed below. If you have younger children talking about playing this game, then it would be valuable to have a discussion about the mature content that includes physical violence, strong sexual content, and language. Ratings are unlikely to change who plays certain games, and if you’re working with a younger population then talking to the parents about the content of games their children play would be valuable, not from a judgmental stance, but one of understanding in case they are not familiar with the ratings, or mature content in certain games. With older clients or patients, the Witcher provides a great context for questions of morality and purpose, and identifying the traits in the characters that they feel connected to.

The main character in the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is named Geralt of Rivia, and a strong female lead (first for the series) named Ciri was added in this game. They are known as Witcher’s, who are monster-slayers for hire. They are known for super-human strength, sterility, and long lifespans.


The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt Gameplay Screenshot


Project Cars on the other hand presents one of the few major titles to receive the ESRB rating of E for Everyone. It puts the player in front of a steering wheel in cars ranging from classic cars, to supercars, and even “karts,” that appears to simulate Mario Kart style racing. There are options to play solo (by yourself), online in public matches, and private online sessions to play just with friends. It’s important to note that the ESRB rating does not cover any online material. What this means is that if someone is playing online, the ESRB cannot control what other players do or say over the chat system.

Project Cars

Project Cars

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides the ratings for video games, and it is a great resource to understand why video games are rated for different age ranges with specific examples. I’ve included the ESRB ratings for the two major releases for May 2015 that I discussed here. It’s also a good resource to learn about other games that are popular with the video game community.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (May 19th, 2015)

  • Rated M (Mature, 17+) for: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Alcohol
  • Rating Summary: This is an open-world role-playing game in which players assume the role of Geralt, a monster hunter in search of a missing woman. Players explore a war-ravaged world while completing quests and killing enemy soldiers and fantastical creatures (e.g., wraiths, harpies, rock beasts). Characters engage in melee-style combat using swords and other bladed weapons, as well as magical attacks (e.g., blasts of fire, stun spells); combat is highlighted by screams of pain and impact sounds. Large blood-splatter effects occur when enemies are slashed, with some attacks resulting in decapitation or dismemberment. Some cutscenes depict slow-motion decapitations and other gore: an autopsy of a torture victim, rooms with several corpses (e.g., hanging from the ceiling, covered in blood on a bed, naked in a tub). During the course of the game, the central character can engage in sexual activity with prostitutes and female companions. These brief sequences depict females’ breasts and buttocks—sexual moaning sounds can be heard, though the camera cuts away from explicit sexual acts. The game includes a side quest in which Geralt engages in a drinking game; characters are depicted drunk and/or passed out. The words “f**k,” “sh*t,” and “c*nt” can be heard in the dialogue.
  • ESRB Source

Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Screenshots

Project Cars (May 12th, 2015)

Rated E (Everyone)

Note: Includes online features that may expose players to unrated user-generated content (Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)

Rating Summary: This is a racing simulation game in which players drive realistic karts and cars on a variety of professional tracks. Players can race cars in several game modes (e.g., Career, Solo, Driver) to improve their skills and lap times.

ESRB Source

Project Cars Screenshots


Gardner, J.E. (1991). Can the Mario Bros. help? Nintendo games as an adjunct inpsychotherapy with children. Psychotherapy, 28, 667–670.

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