What Could Video Games Teach Us About Counseling?

This YouTube streamer Ninja has over 18 million subscribers. Ever heard of him?

He’s one of the most popular channels in the “Walkthrough” genre.

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18 million. Why is that???!!! How??!!

I want to help you serve your 30-40 weekly clients the same way Ninja serves his 18 million.

Okay so, “What’s a walkthrough and how could it help me become a better counselor?”

Hello, wikipedia definition:

“A video game walkthrough is a guide aimed towards improving a player’s skill within a particular video game and often designed to assist players in completing either an entire video game or specific elements. Walkthroughs may alternatively be set up as a play-through, where players record themselves playing through a game and upload or live-stream it to the internet. Walkthroughs may be considered guides on helping to enhance the experience of players, to assist towards unlocking game achievements or simply as a means to socialise with like-minded individuals as a distraction from everyday life.”

As I wrote this I learned walkthroughs are a bit “vintage,” and these days we’d more likely watch a “let’s play.” channel. That’s where viewers watch someone play the game, and interact with the player in real-time via text/chat (thanks Sam for helping me stay in the loop on this!).

First, let’s unpack “Walkthrough,” and apply it to that special person you’re hoping to help today (with a bonus point about “let’s play”). 

1. (*a walkthrough is aimed toward improving a player’s skill) Improve skills. We’re all trying to get better at something, myself included. What’s your client, friend, church member, brother, sister, neighbor, co-worker, spouse trying to get better at? Regulate their emotions? Understand Scripture more? Pray consistently? Do they struggle to see things from another person’s perspective? Is it difficult for them to cope with life transitions or big adjustments to their daily routine? Social skills? Whatever the skills are, target them, practice them. We walk through those challenging scenarios with our clients and help them practice those skills, in real-time, in session, without criticism or judgment, so that they improve.

2. (*walkthrough assists in completing the entire game or specific elements) For example, does a client want help with her life in general? That’s a huge map. Or, is it honing in on a specific part of her life, like marriage, or career, or spiritual questions, etc? And, are we seeking to completely reconcile the meaning of life? Or, are we maybe hoping to unravel a particular personal pattern that’s been getting us in trouble from time to time (e.g., “I struggle with time management and often feel completely disorganized” or “I’m ruled by feelings of resentment against this certain person and it’s impairing our relationship, etc.”). It’s important to clarify all of this together early on in our sessions, and also leave space for it to come up over the course of our work together.

3. (*players record themselves playing and upload/live-stream) Clinically appropriate and ethical self disclosure can go a long way. YouTube players are essentially just being themselves (ish?) and hitting the record button for anyone online to see. Perhaps the stakes are relatively low in this context. But a similar principal operates behind the act of self-disclosure. As a person trying to help, what part of my self could I upload or “stream” into the conversation that could help us connect, and exist as equal partners trying to figure out what life on this planet is all about? Consider how your clients experience your “live stream” as they sit with you in session.

4. (*walkthroughs help others unlock game achievements) “How did you get that weapon for the race-car level, or discover that secret area? How did you unlock it??” There’s a sweet race-car scene in this movie Ready Player One that kinda captures that moment of “unveiling.” Sometimes we just don’t know how to do something. Or we need help considering how to do it differently, do or say something in a different way, interact or relate to others in a new way we’ve never considered. For example, a husband realizes his face seems cold and sterile when he greets his wife in the morning (making this up as I go, I have absolutely no idea what this would look like). He considers a new way of being; he smiles, says “good morning” softly and gently, and thanks his wife for something specific, something he genuinely noticed about her either that morning or just overall in life. For the husband who’s never done that before, such a simple new twist on an every-day occurrence with his wife could unlock paradise. Help your clients unlock their achievements. [**bonus nerd fact: Parzival/Wade in Ready Player One drives backwards… tribute to when Marty also drives backwards???]

5. (*walkthroughs can be a place to “socialise” with like-minded individuals) I have another client who says he enjoys gaming because of the fact that “my friends are doing it with me.” When we sing “Immanuel” during Christmas time, it means “God with us.” Good news of great joy for all people whaaaaaaat???!!!! With. With can change lives. With can turn lonely into loved. Isolation becomes Invitation. Hopeless becomes Hopeful. Death becomes Life. Your client wants to know they’re not alone. Be an ambassador of that grace. And help them find ways to “socialise” not only in-here with you but out-there in the community, at home or school, in a class or a club, some space that says, “Yes! You’re here! Join us!!!”


Your client was placed in your care. They want to go somewhere in their life they’ve never been, or they want to return to a place that’s better than where they are now. They’re lost. How can you “walkthrough” with them for a season and help them see what they need to do differently? Help them see what they need to stop doing? What do you need to share with them about yourself to help them feel less alone, less ashamed, less embarrassed? How can you assure you’re with them?

What do you think about the idea of the walkthrough? What did I miss? How would you tweak it to fit your style? Let me know, I’d love to hear your comments!  


6. (*BONUS* let’s play) Ok so in a way, the previous 5 points have to do with our clients seeking us and our knowledge, as if we’re the guides or helpers. I get that. And it’s useful to see it that way from time to time. Hence the video game walkthrough language. Remember Ninja. 18 million viewers might go to him for guidance on how to do something (gaming is more of a tertiary hobby for me so I apologize if the actual gaming process is a bit more refined than my description).

But here, in the Let’s Play, I like the idea that it’s kinda reversed. Where our client is at the helm, going through her own story, and we’re like the viewer, interacting with her via our sessions together, offering questions and comments and options in real-time as they navigate decisions, which they must ultimately make on their own. That’s pretty cool. It’s empowering for the client, too.

Ok! Go forth, walk through and let’s play!!!  

Featured image photo credit: tech-navy.tech

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