Matthew Lee, 29, a Ph.D. student from the University of Pennsylvania's nursing school, received a Fulbright Scholarship. His research focuses on how video games can be applied to therapeutic use.
Lee, a Cerritos, Calif., native, previously was awarded an International Game Developers Association scholarship for his work with video games and mental health.
He has eight years of experience in developing games and was trained as a game designer. In 2014, he founded game design studio AFK Studios, which was invited to the 2014 G-20 Global Business Challenge in Australia to talk about how video games could address global challenges with water-related issues.
His passion for gaming started when he was a theater undergraduate at the University of Southern California, from which he graduated from in 2009. He will be leaving for Australia in January to continue his research.
Question: How can interactions online affect behavior offline?
Answer: In both the real and online world, we look for respect. We want to feel a sense of accomplishment and have people listen to us. Abuse can have a real-world effect on our self-esteem. If you are abused all the time you might start to think you deserve this and begin to accept that negativity. People turn to games to escape the harshness of reality. It's a safe place. When there no longer is a safe place, it's bad for their mental health.
Q: Will they then be mindful of online behavior?
A: A lot of times people who are being mean have been victims so they think it's normal. It's easy to forget there's a real person on the other end of the message. The common saying to deflecting such attacks would be to "grow a thicker skin" but honestly, you won't repeat your toxic comments to friends and colleagues in real life.
Q: Is there any particular genre where bad behavior is more rampant?
A: Multiplayer online battle arena games definitely have a higher rate of bad behavior. This has been something companies have been trying to fix. People play to win and when things do not go well, people assume the worst and start getting vicious. In multiplayer battle games, people play with one another once so there is no incentive to be civil. Unlike massively multiplayer online role-playing games, where players have more interactions and have known each other for a longer time.
Q: What is the problem you are trying to fix?
A: In general, I am trying to fix the toxicity we see in online communities today. I am looking at how we can build better, more transparent, and more enriching communities both in and out of games. And also, how we can make online gaming a really rewarding experience.
Q: Can gaming improve our mental health?
A: Yes. There are a number of games that focus on cognitive behavior used by therapists. Playing these games, people learn how to monitor and reflect on their thoughts before implementing a new way to behave. There are also games that teach people about relaxation and how to regulate stress and anxiety. Games are also very good for exposure therapy. I am playing a game called Nevermind. It's a game where you are a shrink and you have to treat people with psychological trauma. The catch is you have to remain calm yourself or your patients' minds will become more twisted. I think it promotes humane treatment of mental illness.
Q: Are you developing any games?
A: I am. One of them is called Quarantine. It can be described as a SimCity meets Sherlock for public health. I am trying to teach people about disease and infection control, how to keep themselves healthy, and how the public health system works. In the game, you are a public health investigator who is in charge of seeking out the cause of a disease, how it's spreading, and how to respond to it. It involves keeping people calm and dealing with the media. Hopefully, it will be launched sometime next year.
Q: What are some of your favorite games?