In psychotherapy we have grown to have a narrow definition of what it means to prescribe something. Most of us think of prescription in terms of medication, however if we take this definition, you’ll see why I often prescribe video games:
- (of a medical practitioner) Advise and authorize the use of (a medicine or treatment) for someone, esp. in writing.
- Recommend (a substance or action) as something beneficial.
(Google, Transmitted from http://bit.ly/XyztcE, 2013)
I have mentioned before my assertion that video games are among other things models of the world, that must both resemble and be distinct from the world to be effective. Sometimes they are models that present dystopian worlds, and other times they model how things could be if we set aside some of our differences.
The game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is such a game, and one I recommend that therapists who work with a diverse range of families familiarize themselves with. Like other prescriptions it does have some effects that need to be considered carefully before recommending it to patients. It is rated M by the ERSB, which is characterized as “MATURE: Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.” For parents who are very concerned with violence in video games, this one has a range of it: Set in a quasi-Nordic society, it contains the brutality one would expect there, including a decapitation in the first 10 minutes of the game’s opening.
So what on earth am I thinking in recommending it?
Last week the U.S. and the Supreme Court engaged in public deliberation on Proposition 8 in CA, the repeal of DOMA, and the question of what makes a marriage, and by extension, a family. As the debate unfolded, the statistics reported indicated that the court of public opinion had already reached a majority about the subject. The Washington Post reported that 58% of Americans favored gay marriage, the highest percentage of our citizens yet. And in the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy raised this:
He was alluding to children of parents in same-sex relationships, some of whom are biological offspring, but a substantial number of others who are adopted. Adopted children often experience marginalization by virtue of their adoptive status, which can in itself be stigmatizing in a world which often give genetics primacy over nurturance. But the child who is adopted by same-sex parents often faces a double whammy in a world where their family system goes unrecognized if not persecuted.
I’d like to think that at least part of the change in public opinion on gay marriage and families is due to Skyrim. The video game from its inception has allowed for quest lines that culminate in your proposal, wedding, and marriage to a partner who can either be the same or different sex. If your character is female and you ask another female character to get married, your experience is one of acceptance. Later you get married in a ceremony celebrated and witnessed by several people in your community. Still later you set up house together, and have the experience so many of us have craved, coming home to someone who loves you after a hard days work (or dragon-slaying as the case may be.) As of last July, 10 million copies of the game had been sold worldwide, so it is not unreasonable to imagine that a large number of these found their way into the homes and minds of U.S. gamers. So let’s not give Will and Grace all the credit.
When working with patients from adoptive and/or same-sex families, Skyrim can be a valuable resource in providing a model of a world where adoption and gay marriage are accepted and treated with little fanfare as part of life. Families can use the game as a launch pad for discussion about what makes a family. Perhaps more importantly, kids, adolescents and adults can enjoy hours of gameplay in a world that celebrates marriage diversity and the family of adoption. It’s by no means a perfect world, but the benefits of such a video game may outweigh the concerns about gore. I can tell you that what I hear discussed eagerly by players is not how cool the gore is, but rather how neat it is to be able to be adopted or marry who you want.
Think about how often parents wish their children could understand them better. Now your child has the opportunity to imagine themselves choosing a child as they were chosen. Imagine a LGBTQ adolescent being able to experience choosing to marry who they want regardless of sex. And imagine a straight person seeing that they aren’t always what “normal” has to look like. Not medication, but a powerful prescription for what often ails our patients, and our nation.
And then, as I was preparing to write this post, I was bitten by a vampire.
Another common occurrence in the world of Skyrim is encountering a vampire. In my case, without choosing to, I had been bitten, and within a few days of game play, people in Skyrim began to notice. At first the shopkeepers would tell me I looked pale. A day or so later I was told by the guards that I had a hungry look in my eye. Finally, when my vampirism was no longer concealable everyone turned hostile. I couldn’t enter any city, including my hometown without being attacked, both verbally and physically. No matter that I hadn’t hurt anyone yet, I was forced to sneak around everywhere. I felt frustrated and victimized. It was a powerful lesson in ostracism.
I wish I could assign Skyrim to every one of my social work students studying diversity and racism. The game provides a model of a world which provides you with the experience of tremendous acceptance and empowerment, as well as hatred and stigma. It also shows us models of love and families which we have yet to embrace sufficiently in the United States of America.
There are 38 children in Skyrim who could be parented by a same-sex couple, in CA there are some 40,000 who have been. In our nation as a whole an estimated 65,000 adopted children are being raised by same-sex parents. We risk raising a portion of these, our future population, to feel ashamed, marginalized and flawed.
We can do better.