I believe this to be true. At the end of 2009, I played Bejeweled Blitz for hours — something I rarely do. We had a family crisis and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Playing the game gave me purpose (trying to top my friends’ high scores) and helped me relax a little. Games also come to the rescue when my brain won’t focus.
It’s like those times when you don’t feel like going to a party or another social event. Once you get there, smile and chat… you feel better. Casual games (non-violent, family-friendly) do that for me and I can get on with my day. Here are the details of the study:
East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic completed a year-long randomized, controlled clinical study to look at the efficiency of casual video games for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Almost 60 subjects that met the criteria of clinical depression participated in the study. Half of the subjects were part of the control group. The participants played three family-friendly, non-violent puzzle games: Bejeweled 2, Peggle and Bookworm Adventures. (All of the games are made by PopCap Games, underwriter of the study.)
The result was a 57 percent reduction of depression symptoms along with improved moods.
“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,” stated Dr. Carmen Russoniello, Director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU and the professor who oversaw the study (as well as previous studies involving the same games’ effects on stress levels). “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.”
Ehh… I’m not sure I’d recommend games as a replacement to standard therapies and medicine. But at least, it’s an option that might work with all the therapies or for those who are just feeling down, but haven’t been diagnosed with depression. Depression is a real problem, a real illness. But some don’t see it as a real illness without physical symptoms. Nonetheless, games do affect the mood and chase the doldrums away.
Russoniello said that the games had both short term (after 30 minutes of game play) and long term (after one month) effects when compared to the control group.