Video Games May Help People Deal With Depression


Playing video games can be a treatment for depression, a new study says. In young adults who suffer from mild depression, playing these “brain training” games gave them a feeling of power over their feelings of depression.

By increasing the time participants spent playing video games, this recent study was able to study the effects of brain training games in higher volume. The findings are soon to be published in Computers in Human Behavior in the June 2017 issue.

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The study from University of California, Davis brought together 160 student volunteers of different ethnicities and genders who reported suffering from mild depression. The average age of the participants was 21 years old. These students played specially designed video and brain training games to help relieve their depression. Importantly, the video games were accompanied by messages to inspire the players, and these messages were the main point of study in this research project.

“Through the use of carefully designed persuasive message prompts…mental health video games can be perceived and used as a more viable and less attrition-ridden treatment option,” said the authors of the paper, Subuhi Khan and Jorge Pena. Khan and Pena are professors in the Department of Communication at UC Davis.

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These messages targeted both internal and external sources of depression and were displayed based on the choices of the players in the games. Every message ended with the same sentence: “Just like a regular workout, much of the benefit of these tasks comes from using them without taking breaks and putting in your best effort.”

Each game lasted three minutes, with six games played in total. The games were all designed specifically to help the players feel some sense of empowerment over their depression. For the participants who expressed depression from internal sources, the games gave the players a feeling of control. The games, as previously found in research, showed potential to create cognitive changes.

For the participants who expressed depression as coming from external sources, such as work or relationships, the amount of time spent playing the games increased. However, according to researchers, this is not likely to have the same long-term effects as the internal depression cognitive changes.

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Each participant was sent gentle reminders to prompt them to play the games, and these reminders caused them to play the games more. These reminders were based on a variety of inspirational quotes and phrases, although each one was different and unique.

These brain games show much promise not just in treating the symptoms of depression, but in actually creating a shift in the cognitive function in the brain. Further research is soon to be done on how to optimize these games for those suffering from depression and many other mental disorders.