A game that heals?


I’m not talking about my imaginary girlfriend today, but her imaginary sister. Not that it makes much difference, I suppose.

I came home from work and was about to mow a part of the lawn again. I try to do this for a while each day when it is not raining (and rainy days are few here on the south coast of Norway). I do it as exercise as much as I do it for the lawn. So I strapped on the pulse clock and belt, so I can keep track on how hard I work. I try to keep my manual lawn mowing in the range of 120-140 beats per minute, whereas my resting pulse is around 60 (55 on a good day, up to 70 if I have worked hard the day before or if I have a cold.) Well, to my surprise my pulse was much faster than usual. Whether standing, sitting or walking, it was nearly 20 bpm faster than the baseline. That is about as much as it gets without breaking out in actual fever.

Since I had recently walked home from work, it might be some delayed reaction to the walk home or the stress of the workday. I sat down and meditated for about 40 minutes. This had barely any effect at all. So I gave up on the mowing and went online. Soon I was playing City of Heroes, duoing my Fire/Willpower scrapper with the Gravity/Kinetics controller of my imaginary girlfriend’s imaginary younger sister.

After a bit over an hour, I logged off. I checked my pulse again to see if it had grown worse. When it is 15 bpm over baseline, it is usually either because I exercised hard enough yesterday or because I am catching a cold. And this was higher than that again. So I expected a nasty infection, that’s why I checked up again. And the pulse was down to normal levels. Not the very lowest I’ve seen, but normal for a workday.

What’s up with that? Games can be relaxing, but not in the same league as meditation, I dare say. And a fast-paced combat-oriented superhero game is not exactly the most relaxing of the bunch, I suspect.

In the game there are various sources of healing, including the “transfusion” power of kinetics. She used that a few times, though mostly for herself. My character is more robust, and has an innate rapid healing. Not quite Wolverine-level (there is a movie about Wolverine now, right?) but still pretty nifty.

But this should not extend out of the game and into real life, right? I mean, I have been flying since shortly after City of Heroes was released, but gravity has the same grip on me in real life as it had then, 5 years ago. OK, I’ve lost a few pounds, but that’s because I lost the fat on my backside during the Months of Starvation. (If you did not know, men are the opposite of women in this regard. If we lose the fat there, it is almost impossible to get back on. Or perhaps that’s just me. Probably not though.)

There are some things in games that carry over to real life though. Primary emotions like anger or sexual excitement acquired in games can have visible physical effects in real life. (Not that this is why I play CoH, of course. And in any case, both my imaginary girlfriend and her imaginary sister tends toward dressing as Japanese schoolgirls, which are actually not very distracting compared to the skimpy or skin tight uniforms of classic superheroines (complete with gravity-defying breasts of doom). So yeah since hovering is the signature movement mode of Levity Lass, you could theoretically look up under those short schoolgirl skirts and see her light blue panties, but why would you do that with an imaginary character?)

Anyway, I think we can’t credit the in-game healing, except possibly by a slight amount of placebo effect. And even then we would have to factor in all the times one gets wounded over the course of the fight against evil, wouldn’t that too feed back into real life if the health did?

One more explanation I can think of is the social aspect, even if imaginary. Humans are social creatures and in general health is strongly correlated with social involvement. Then again, causality is a two-way street. It could be that sick people have less ability to socialize, because they are, you know, sick. And in any case very few humans make my heart beat slower – the number is down to zero, I would say, these days. Subjectively at least I find it easier to relax alone. That is not to say that I hate humans. Relaxing is not the only goal in life. If it was, I would not be playing CoH in the first place, would I? I would sleep and meditate and wait for my final rest. That is pretty far from my average day, I assure you.

Perhaps it took some time for the meditation to kick in. Or perhaps the body really was fighting some invader, but was already winning by the time I noticed, and the lymphocytes had packed up and gone home later in the evening. What do I know. More experiments are in order! Especially since the experiments involve computer games.

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