THE PLAYER AND THE GAME: Compulsion, Relation, and Potential Space in Video Games

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Abstract

For years, video games have been anecdotally associated with psychopathology, despite their increasing popularity among the general public and the lack of empirical evidence to support such a link. In this article, the author argues that games are more than symptoms and that game worlds can act as a kind of potential space (Winnicott, 1971/2005) not fully belonging to either intrapsychic or objective reality, but making contact with both. This space allows players to engage with complex psychological material—such as compulsions, self-and-other relations, morality, and personal growth—in vivo during the play session. Through exploration of the structural building blocks of games and specific case examples, the author suggests that an understanding of how and why patients play games can serve as an important clinical tool for sparking therapeutic change.

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