• Casual Games for Mental Health Treatment?

        World got you down? Play some games!

        The Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at East Carolina University was in gaming news last May for a study on the effect of casual games on human cognition. It was determined that the active participation required for a gaming session provided mental exercise superior to the passive state of the mind when watching television and partaking in similar activities. It seems like common sense, but it is important to have peer-reviewed, controlled studies on your side sometimes, and anything that might help in the fight against Alzheimer's and senility is welcome news.

        Now the researchers are back with information of the effect on casual games on depression and anxiety, two "boss battles" ubiquitous in modern life. Can moving brightly colored shapes around a screen really banish darkness from people's lives?

        The study involved fifty-nine clinically depressed adults and three games: Bejeweled 2, Peggle, and Bookworm Adventures - all titles published by PopCap, which also underwrote the study. The members of the experimental group each selected one of the three games, played it in the laboratory, at home for a month, then back in the laboratory once more. The unfortunate control group got to surf the National Institute of Mental Health's Web site on depression for a half hour instead.

        Besides a significant reduction in anxiety and a 36% improvement in somatic symptoms (meaning the subjects felt physically better), there was a 57% decrease in the overall symptoms of depression among the experimental group. In fact, all seven of the moderately to severely depressed experimental subjects were downgraded to the "minor" or "minimal" depression categories. The PowerPoint presentation reporting the findings on www.ecu.edu also claims a "33% increase in Vigor," which makes one wonder how HP and Attack Rate were affected."

        The study recommends the use of casual games as an "adjunct to, or even replacement for standard therapies, including medication." The professor who oversaw the study, Dr. Carmen Russoniello, called for games to be "made available at health clinics, community centers, online 'medical sites' and given out by therapists as a means of intervention."

        Perhaps Microsoft can underwrite a study on why being on Xbox Live inspires racist outbursts or why Uno compels inappropriate displays of pasty flesh on cam.
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