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Nancy Schimelpfening

Playing Casual Video Games Reduces Depression Symptoms

By February 22, 2011

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A new study out of East Carolina University found that playing casual, non-violent video games - in particular "Bejeweled","Peggle" and "Bookworm" - reduced depression symptoms in study participants.

The study, which was underwritten by PopCap games, found that, of the 59 people who participated in the study, the half that spent an average of 40.7 minutes playing the games had a 57% reduction in their depression symptoms.

The seven subjects who were identified as having moderate to severe depression symptoms prior to study had their symptoms reduced to minimal or mild following the study, while the numbers of those who had milder forms of depression prior to the study dropped from nine to four.

The study found that there was a 65% overall improvement in general mood and anxiety, in addition to a reduction in physical symptoms, such as tension (49.6%), anger (55%), confusion (50%) and fatigue (58%).

In a statement, lead author Dr. Carmen Russoniello said, "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."

"In my opinion," Russoniello concluded,"the findings support the possibility of using prescribed casual video games for treating depression and anxiety as an adjunct to, or perhaps even as a replacement for, standard therapies including medication."

Additional information about the study can be found on East Carolina University's website.

February 22, 2011 at 10:11 pm
(1) erik says:

I’d bet that any video game would have this effect, even violent ones. Depression is being countered by the mental engagement. The researchers looked at casual games only otherwise their research would be more controversial. IMO – all games are a form of “self medication”…. when engagement with the real world is daunting/annoying/depressing.

February 23, 2011 at 8:29 am
(2) Michael says:

I too used video games as a way to self medicate my Depression. The dang thing laid down on me (broke!). I really miss it. Cain’t afford a new 360 right now. You can bet though If I had one it would bo On more than Off!

August 16, 2011 at 3:31 pm
(3) Mama.K. says:

Violent video games are not the answer to anything- especially depression. If anything, I have seen for myself how they can infuse depression. When engagement in the real world is daunting/annoying/depressing, as Erik put it here- turning to playing video games (especially the violent ones) as a form of “self-medication” is irrational. What is depicted in these violent video games? Violence, death, isolation, loss, pain, etc..it’s all so incredibly negative and depressing. It glorifies war and destruction- you get points/rewards for killing. How can that make anyone actually feel better? Unless, of course you actually enjoy this kind of stuff, in which case you have an even bigger problem than depression.

February 23, 2011 at 6:59 am
(4) Ali Khakwani says:

please help me out of this depression thing i cant work cant talk with parents like i answer them rudely

February 23, 2011 at 8:44 am
(5) Bestephens says:

Please look for help. If you don’t want to tell your parents, please look for someone in your area who can talk to you. I cannot stress enough how important it is to TALK to someone in person. Online is not going to help you from where you are.
Also know that as bad as you feel now, YOU WILL FEEL BETTER! But if you find someone to talk to, and maybe even take some medication (studies show that the two work better than either one alone) you will feel better sooner.
Please look for help!

March 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm
(6) Ali Khakwani says:

dear Nancy im going through olt of problems like im into drugs as well i take Valium to sleep if i dont take them i cant sleep i will be very great full to you if you replay me back thanks alot from Ali Khakwani.

February 23, 2011 at 8:07 am
(7) Teena says:

Depression is my constant companion. Just a way of life or at least my life. I agree the video games help depression as it helps me alot. I play scrabble alot and this keeps my mind engaged and learning . I have not played for several weeks and the depression is alot worse. I think it just keeps our mind busy so you don’t have so much time on your hands to think.

February 23, 2011 at 9:05 am
(8) Lisa C says:

I have found that “Flower” for PS3 is wonderful. It takes you away with soothing music and you get to make all of the beautiful flowers bloom while flying through the air. Give it a whirl!

September 26, 2011 at 2:46 am
(9) headaches everyday says:

I have to agree with you. I try it, and it’s really great.
All those who have problem need to try it.

February 23, 2011 at 2:47 pm
(10) erik says:

I honestly think depression is quite normal … if I’m not busy, or I’m overwhelmed, or whatever, I can get “down”. Without strategies to get back up again, the “down” state lasts longer… and that’s depression.

Anything that keeps you engaged erases the down state. Volunteering is good. If you have a crappy job that makes it worse… a job should keep you in an up or mid-up state either becaue of talking with coworker or mentally engaging work.

Video games are probably mid-up, not that good (althouth the elephant thing at armor is cool). Taking care of kids counteracts all of it for me.

February 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm
(11) Laura says:

Oh my yes . Small puzzle games like Sudoku or mahjong I play as often as I can . When I can sit .it takes my mind off things and I can relax . I find when I am depressed it is hard to focus and I do worse but it doesn’t matter when it is a solitary game whether you win or not. I have my smart phone with solitaire games just for this purpose . How coincidental .

February 23, 2011 at 7:02 pm
(12) T foloz says:

Solid hour(s) of virtual solitaire, sometimes played at a feverish pitch left me with sensation similar to that of a decent workout, only without the additional health benefits. Still, an interesting experience. Desire to engage in this behavior has all but evaporated coincidentally with mostly successful SSRI therapy. I would describe as “near compulsion” rather than addiction. Considered in retrospect, sensations seem similar In some ways to those typically accompanying RLS without the normally associated physical expression. Go figure.

February 23, 2011 at 9:08 pm
(13) J says:

As a gamer myself, I agree with Erik up above (first post). Any game can have the capability of having similar results, whether it be something casual or more controversial, as long as the gameplay is there to entice and engage you. Trust me, there have been days where I’ve spent HOURS escaping. But there are a couple of things wrong with this study.

I knew something was up when Nancy wrote the study “was underwritten by Popcap,” and only casual games were studied. The three games mentioned (Bejeweled, Peggle, and Bookworm) are actually developed by Popcap themselves (www.popcap.com). So this study is less a study and more of an ad.

My other problem is with Russoniello’s conclusion:

“… the findings support the possibility of using prescribed casual video games for treating depression and anxiety as an adjunct to, or perhaps even as a replacement for, standard therapies including medication.”

The idea of replacing therapy and medication with video games is completely ludicrous! As someone who used to get therapy before, I’d say that just being able to talk to someone is such a tremendous relief, moreso than any medication that can be prescribed (at least in my case). Personally, I felt talking did a lot more medication. Video games, on the other hand, whether casual (I’ve done my fair share of Bejeweled) or controversial (Grand Theft Auto series), were more of an escape from my perceived world. Rather than confront the things that were depressing me, I would turn to the games and isolate myself even further.

February 23, 2011 at 9:09 pm
(14) J says:

Basically, what I want to say is: take these results with a grain of salt. The study was, as Nancy wrote, “underwritten by Popcap,” which basically means they paid for it, as far as I’m concerned. And the study was limited to games developed by Popcap themselves. This is basically just one big ad, probably designed to take advantage of us and our depressions. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t play games; far from it. Knock yourself out! Bejewled is pretty fun, and if you ever find yourself at Popcap’s site, or elsewhere where their games may be hosted, check out Plants vs Zombies. But PLEASE do not isolate yourself in a game world, like I used to do, and PLEASE DO NOT quit medication or therapy to just rely on games!!!!!!!

P.S. Yeah, I promoted two games there in that last paragraph, but I’m no Popcap shill. Just sharing with you guys. ;-)

P.P.S. No, I’m not cured of my depression or anything. It’s still something I deal with, and although I ask you to not isolate yourselves with games as I used to do, don’t think I’m not isolating myself within other things. Ugh ….

March 2, 2011 at 9:09 am
(15) Ben says:

Interesting findings, but since all three of the games listed are PopCap games and PopCap paid for the research, it’s hard to take this seriously. I’d love to see other, independent, research on this. There’s some indication that video games help patients overcome dementia, but nothing yet on depression.

March 7, 2011 at 4:46 am
(16) Cali27 says:

This article grabbed my attention because I have never played video games and don’t know how to either, however….I just bought a CSI and a Law & Order game just because I thought it about time I learned to play,and then I read this article. Even though I have not started the games yet (nervous), I really do think they will help with depression in regards to the ‘escapism’ factor.

Also,what that man said saying that games could replace medication…totally irresponsible. Medication DOES plat a part in helping people who have depression along with Talking treatments and anything else that works for others.

(For ‘Ali Khakwani’-please go and talk to your Doctor about how you are feeling,they will be able to help you).

So with what the ‘gamers’ out there are saying,it sounds like gaming is good therapy and I am going to give it a try,thanks!!

March 11, 2011 at 11:05 am
(17) Seminole CEU says:

Completely agree. Casually (not completely immersing yourself in) playing video games is a great way to keep your mind from brooding over negative thoughts. On another note of gaming is the online gaming aspect. Online gaming provides people with the means of not only finding a decent way to reduce stress, but a channel to talk and interact with other people. Communicating with other people is always good to prevent isolationism and loneliness.

June 14, 2011 at 4:15 pm
(18) Recognize a Sociopath says:

I would think anything distracting you from your own problems would lessen your symptoms. I wonder what part of the brain is most affected by playing games?

July 14, 2011 at 5:32 am
(19) netbooks under 200 says:

I suffered from depression for 10 years and did not even realize that I was depressed. My personality changed alot but I never really though I was depressed.

Turns out I was.

July 24, 2011 at 11:50 pm
(20) pajama jeans says:

So did you ever get help?

September 7, 2011 at 11:26 am
(21) smelly urine says:

I was in same situation as you. That is the worst part that you dont realize that you are depressed… But now after I know what is the problem I can easy fight depression!

August 1, 2011 at 3:07 am
(22) tony marcos says:

Personally I believe it just the distraction and nothing special about video games, but I may be wrong but that is very rare :)

August 11, 2011 at 11:23 pm
(23) nancy says:

Xbox 360 mini golf. We play 18 holes every day….. I’m getting good! We play for chores….. if I win no chores for me. :) (dishes, vacume) my partner has to do them. I only win about 1 in 15 games, but it’s fun and we talk while playing. More then we would talk if we we just watching tv. I don’t play bang bang shoot um up games. I do have most of the pop cap games because they are like eye candy when I depressed.
anyone wanna play?

September 12, 2011 at 9:18 pm
(24) Your House Home says:

I think golf is a great way to cure depression!

October 15, 2011 at 11:13 pm
(25) ipad alternatives says:

I seriously doubt golf is a great way to “cure” depression but I’m sure it definately helps. Playing any kind of fun games really helps alot. Sometimes it may be hard far a person to get up and go but you just have to force yourself knowing that it is the best thing for you.

November 8, 2011 at 11:23 pm
(26) windows tablet says:

You mean all I have to do is play golf and I’ll be cured? Get real. It helps temporarily, but cure it? Uhhh, no.

September 15, 2011 at 1:38 am
(27) StorkCraft Baby says:

Video games often offer us a release that we can’t get else where. This was a great article! For all the bad rap video games get at least there is one study out there trying to battle the bad PR. I just wished more people thought like this.

One thing I will say however… after suffering from PTSD and depression for some time I found that I could no longer play my violent video games such as Call of Duty because they became stressful. I now find a good game of mario party to be more enjoyable.

December 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm
(28) disaster recovery says:

Appreciate it for this post, I am a big big fan of this internet site would like to keep updated.

January 12, 2012 at 12:32 am
(29) jewelrystore says:

I played video games when I was depressed. I felt so isolated and alone. It was the worst feeling and I stopped playing them–I even gave them away.

It wasn’t until I gave them away and started therapy and interacting with other people that I started feeling better.

November 10, 2012 at 11:46 pm
(30) Keshto Arya says:

Hey there! This post could not be written any better!
Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate!

He always kept talking about this. I will
forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good
read. Many thanks for sharing!

November 11, 2012 at 10:54 am
(31) Dr Deen mohd says:

very good research done by East Carolina University for depression

April 24, 2013 at 8:14 pm
(32) adrian shepherd says:

Many parents are simply too stubborn to admit fact, lets look inside:

–Common misconception: When people play violent video games, they become angirier, obseesed with death/killing, etc.

Kids don’t accosiate “getting points” with killing, its not that they are killing someone/ a charactor, its that they are completeing the task. Then people start to generalize, the worst thing. Yes it is true that certain games, like Call of Duty among others, WILL cause anger, (mostly temporary from frusteration) they don’t cause chronic effects. When kids play games like TF2, for example, parents think that it is horrible. TF2, in fact, is based on cartoon violence, as are many games. The developers of Call of Duty (CoD) really are evil people, but the devs of games like TF2 and Minecraft, are GOOD people. Notch (his nickname), the maker of Minecraft, is a Norwegian guy who believes in freedom of information across the internet.

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