Games in Healthcare

Study Shows Casual Games Can Bring Relief from Depression

Title Screen from PeggleThe Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic of East Carolina University recently released a study on the effectiveness of casual games in alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression in adults. Conducted on behalf of PopCap Games, the study used psychological and physiological measurements to calculate the effectiveness of three PopCap’s games: Bejeweled 2, Peggle and Bookworm Adventures.

Researchers looked at the benefits of using these games as a form of recreational therapy for patients diagnosed as clinically depressed. Comprised of 59 participants—split between the experimental group and a control group who instead of playing, surfed the depression section of the National Institutes of Mental Health's website—the study found an average reduction in depression symptoms of 57 percent in the experimental group. Measurements were based on participants’ answers to a widely used depression diagnosis questionaire, heart rate variability and changes in brain function. Read More...

All participants demonstrating severe or moderate depression symptoms in the experimental group saw an improvement, with their symptoms being reduced to minor or minimal. Overall, the study found significant reduction in anxiety and improvements in all aspects of mood for participants who played the casual video games. The positive effects of the games started rapidly, after 30 minutes of game play, and were reported to last even one month after playing.

According to the research team, this study is the first to measure the efficacy of video games to reduce depression and anxiety. "The results of this study clearly demonstrate the intrinsic value of certain casual games in terms of significant, positive effects on the moods and anxiety levels of people suffering from any level of depression," said Dr. Carmen Russoniello, Director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic and the project’s lead researcher.

"Equally important, the data supports the hypothesis that casual video games contain intrinsic qualities that, when played, provoke physiological and biochemical changes consistent with positive changes in mood and anxiety," Russoniello added. "In my opinion the findings support the possibility of using prescribed casual video games for treating depression and anxiety as an adjunct to, or perhaps even a replacement for, standard therapies including medication."