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After the rather technical articles explaining the game and describing the therapeutic framework around the practice of Minecraft, this is the first article built around ‘an effect’ observed during the session.
There are several of them and I mainly spot them when I rework my notes of video game sessions with clients in the aftermath. These effects that emerge during the therapeutic practice fuel questions about the client’s problems, but also in a broader way about this or that aspect that the video game will help to shed light on. It is these reflections and questions that I would like to share, elements that come straight from the clinical practice of video games in therapy.
Minecraft : Getting lost in diversity
This issue of diversity in Minecraft is something that did not immediately come up in the sessions and it was quite simple to understand. I had originally planned to offer Minecraft to clients with some knowledge and experience of the game, implying a certain mastery of the tool. However, after a few months I saw young children in consultation who had knowledge of the game via the Youtube channels; some of them had very little (if any) experience of it. Two elements are important: their youth and their lack of experience. To these was added a third for some of them—the existence of attention and concentration difficulties.
Thus, in the first instance, my first Minecraft player clients were over 12 years old and well-seasoned in the practice of this video game; in the second instance I saw these younger clients appearing who had little experience of facing the immense diversity of Minecraft.
While the usual positive effect was expected of joint attention (sharing interest) as a result of the practice of the video game in the session, a disturbing negative feeling was evident with these young clients, concealed by their enthusiasm for finding themselves in this experience next to the therapist.
It was the analysis of my own feelings during these sessions that made it possible to clarify what was happening: why does this enthusiasm seem overplayed? The child has the opportunity to show that they know how to do something that can be recognised and valued, but they find themselves caught up in their difficulties: faced with the diversity that Minecraft offers, they find it increasingly difficult to remain focussed on the task, and turn away from it because of the discovery of this or that object, and this or that character or animal encountered; in other words distractors (definition: ‘thing or element capable of diverting the thought on another object’ ) that come to disrupt the child’s attention to the task.
In Survival mode, it is therefore mainly the animals that distract attention; these are active elements of the game which generally mobilise a single reaction: aggressiveness. The player has to chase the animal in order to hit it and kill it, a movement that is the opposite of the attentional mobilisation in which the child was engaged, which sometimes creates the impression that tension is being released.
In the Creative mode, the main distractor is the inventory. The touch of a button is all that is required to find yourself with all the elements of the game at your disposal, equip yourself with them, and arrange them in the game space. Whereas two or three building materials were anticipated, the player may find themselves with a dozen or so elements around him, some of which have nothing to do with the initial building project.
Obviously, this effect is much more important during the creative parts than during the survival parts, as the player has all the elements of the game at their disposal.
The question then arose: is it possible to use Minecraft while positively reversing the negative effect it generates for these clients? More specifically, am I going to be able to use Minecraft to help clients manage some of the anxieties that arise when playing the game, through the video game itself?
I always ask myself the same question: what does the client want to show the therapist? They show me that they may be anxious in certain situations or circumstances, especially when there are a lot of choices. There are many things that can be done and the client just cannot do them, gets lost, and their attention is easily disturbed by the multiple distractors that can appear in the play space. However, the client may need these distractors to manage an emotional overflow as best they can.
Hearing the message and then verbalising it in the therapeutic dynamic is a necessary precondition, which can enable the transfer of what has been perceived to other areas, such as school.
Let me explain: in the therapeutic system, it is possible to allow a particular situation to exist, provoked by the practice of video games during a session. The therapeutic configuration allows us to put words on the emotional experience in progress and it is then a question of bringing the client to associate this with another situation in which the emotional vibration is identical. This often reminds them of a situation experienced at school, an activity which takes up a lot of their time and which sometimes takes up a lot of space in families.
The connection is made, recognised, and shared through words; we are now going to be able to use this emotional bridge to transfer positive elements from the therapeutic space to the situation that has been associated with it by the client. It must be understood that this ‘technical’ aspect is only one element made possible by a complex therapeutic device in which both client and therapist are inserted.
How does this work in practice?
First of all, it is necessary to help the client to determine a project, an idea, which they will want to put into practice via Minecraft. For some, it is necessary to go through a more ‘formal’ phase by writing down the stages of the project and adding the game resources they think they need; this will help them organise their thoughts before moving on to the realisation phase.
Thus, when the client starts their game, it may be possible, sometimes, to make a more concrete reference to something that will have been laid down beforehand by them (‘ah! you said you were going to do this or that’), in order to redirect them on their realisation.
I specified ‘sometimes’ because the dynamics of certain sessions will make it more appropriate not to intervene, and instead to let the client wander at that particular moment.
After a few sessions we will see the beginning of an awareness in these clients of their wandering in the game, of those digressions which take them away from their objectives. It is this awareness that enables them to then manage, control, and redirect themselves to the completion of the task.
The child realises that they do more from one session to the next; that they are developing a sense of efficiency and in the end becomes more satisfied with themselves. This is the starting point of a virtuous circle that leads to self-confidence and ultimately to greater self-esteem. By making the link with attitudes in their daily lives, we see that there is an improvement in the ability to invest in their activities.
Of course, the whole emotional range that comes into play in these situations will be analysed and verbalised with the child in order to allow an even more relevant self-centred approach, bringing an awareness of the personal resources on which they can rely, as well as a more positive vision of the emotions felt.
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