According to new research reported in Asian News International, playing immersive video games can produce brain reactions similar to those produced by powerful painkilling drugs.
And to Dr. Jeffrey I. Gold of USC's Keck School of Medicine, the benefits go beyond just taking your mind off the pain. After using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine to measure the mental activity of patients exposed to pain while playing video games, he found the resulting pain reduction was not simply a result of distraction, but actually involved the games inducing an opiate-like response in certain regions of the brain.
But don't break out the latest Call of Duty or Gran Turismo just yet, as Gold's trials weren't using off-the-shelf tech. Instead, his guinea-pigs were wearing old-school VR headsets, immersed in the sights
and sounds of a virtual world in which they were riding on the back of a penguin, catching fish.
Gold and his team aren't yet certain why video games produce these pain-killing reactions, but it's likely to be due to the attention-grabbing, immersive nature of video games, he told ANI. Even simply watching video games produces a mild effect, they found, but the more engaging the experience, the bigger the analgesic effect.
The team hopes pain-relieving games could find uses in cancer treatment, wound cleansing and burn care, as well as longer-term applications in dealing with anxiety and chronic pain conditions. It's also already proved its worth as a tactic to distract children while they have their blood drawn.