How video games help war vets

'Serious video games' are now used for everything from educating about Somalian piracy, to explaining childbirth, to helping soldiers cope with the trauma of war. 

He comes into a training room at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center, a skinny kid with an earring and a cap, and sits down, ready to work. He looks young. But he's been through a lot.

A few years ago, in Iraq with the National Guard, Bryan Kidd suffered a concussion so severe he still has trouble recognizing people. This afternoon he is working with Veterans Affairs therapist Andrea Meehan on cognitive problems. They're using a video game to do it.

This is one example of the burgeoning field of "serious games": tapping what has been an entertainment device for training, education, and therapy. Some serious games have been around for years, like flight simulators. Some are new – including games like Cutthroat Capitalism, which helps people understand the economics of Somalian piracy, or September 12th, which is about the nature of terrorism.

Other games teach about everything from redistricting to childbirth to warfare. The allure of "gamification" seems clear: to make education – or therapy – fun.

Ms. Meehan uses a game called Big Brain Academy, which schools use as well. Since 2006, the VA has used it for vets like Mr. Kidd.

"Start with Covered Cages," Meehan tells him.

Six cages pop up on the screen. Three have birds in them. Suddenly, covers hide the cages. On the screen, the cages begin switching order. It's a therapeutic shell game. Which cages hold the birds? Kidd isn't fooled. He clicks on three and gets a green check.

Later, they switch to a harder test. Kidd sees faces peeking around a corner. Then he sees a bunch of faces. Kidd needs to pick the ones he's seen. He's been practicing at home.

"His scores have gone up," Meehan says.

There are still some levels that give Kidd trouble. "I gotta work harder," he says.

He will do that both here and at home where, unlike Iraq, his battle is personal.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to How video games help war vets
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today