Playing Video Games May Ease Depression

Video games have recently shown up in the news as ways to combat depression and keep mental clarity sharp, and a new study from UC Davis shows that reminder messages help players remember to keep up with their “therapy.”

Authored by Subuhi Khan and Jorge Pena, two professors at the Department of Communication at UC Davis, the study states:

“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.”

The games assigned to the players targeted depression, including those caused by chemical imbalances and those that were situational. The reminder messages for each were customized to the cause, but both types inspired players to participate in the games, and both ended with the message:

“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.”

The study found that playing a game specifically designed for them gave players a feeling of control over their depression. Each game utilized neurophysiological training tasks that have been shown to improve cognitive control for those with depression.

Showing depression as the result of internal factors and then providing a video game based on brain training gave the players a feeling of control over their depression. This backs up previous studies that show that brain-training video games can help support cognitive control.

Portraying depression as caused by external factors meant players spent more time with the games, also giving them a feel of control, although authors of the study believe this had more to do with their immediate involvement with the game and might not lead to long term improvements.

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