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Do Video Games Help With Depression

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Video Games To Treat Depression

Does Video Games Help Battle Depression?

Among the possible treatment methods for depression, gaming certainly doesn’t seem to make sense. However, recent research data paints a different picture.

One of the most talked-about treatments for depression is a method called CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This method of therapy has shown to be effective in more than 1000 research studies.

However, there is a downside to implementing CBT cost and time. CBT works by helping a person identifying the most important goals in their life and then working towards achieving them.

This process involves problem-solving methods that help the patient to organize their thoughts and leave out unnecessary distractions.

The fundamental idea behind CBT is to help the person identify their thoughts and differentiate between realistic and distorted feelings. By understanding the difference between both, a person can avoid the distorted thoughts that often fuel depression.

What makes CBT different from other depression treatments is that it is possible to perform CBT without using any form of medication at all!

Gaming falls within the realm of CBT as a therapeutic method. The core science that drives game logic aligns with the values of CBT.

Are Video Games Linked To Depression And Behavior Issues

A study that looked at children who played 1990s shooting-oriented video games suggests an association between video games and an increase in conduct issuesbut only a small increase. The study, which was published in PLOS One, is just one of many studies that have attempted to explore the correlation between violent video games and violent behavior.

Research On Video Games And Mental Health

For this report, researchers from Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software, looked at earlier studies to see whether commercial video games could fill in existing gaps in mental health treatment, particularly for depression and anxiety.

The research found evidence that video games could help alleviate symptoms of depression, such as the loss of pleasure. The video games Minecraft and Animal Crossing: New Horizons also fostered social connectedness and reduced loneliness.

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The Relationship Between Video Games And Anxiety

The relationship between video games and anxiety is an enmeshed one. Video games tend to draw people who experience certain types of anxiety and keep them hooked. Then, the more time someone spends gaming, the more his or her anxiety tends to increase. Lets explore the relationship between video games and anxiety to loosen the grip they might have on you.

Do video games cause anxiety? This is a common question without an easy yes-or-no answer. Researchers havent found evidence that video games cause anxiety directly instead, studies continue to show that video games and anxiety are correlated. This means that, rather than having a cause-and-effect relationship, the two relate and contribute to each other.

Video games and anxiety are connected by

  • Traits and characteristics of someone engaging in gaming
  • A specific type of anxiety

The Future Of Commercial Video Games

Video Games and Depression [Video]

The advent of virtual reality video games at home has begun, and with it, researchers and video game companies are beginning to find new solutions to address mental health support through VR gaming . A recently published study by Pallavicini and Pepe showed significant decreases in state anxiety and negative emotions, accompanied by increased levels of positive emotions, for young adults who played the commercially available VR games Fruit Ninja VR and Audioshield. Commercially available VR video games have great potential and are well suited for the implementation of cognitive behavioral techniques for the treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders. Given the immersive nature of VR technology and the controllability of the virtual environment, it could be particularly well suited for use in exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is often prescribed to individuals with anxiety disorders . Although research is still preliminary, VR commercial video games show great promise for treating and coping with symptoms of mental health issues however, further scientific research is required to validate these initial promising findings.

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Wolfenstein : The New Colossus

This may seem an odd choice at first, but Wolfenstein 2, the game about killing Nazis in an alternate timeline where the Allies lost World War II and are fighting to take back the US and Europe, has much to say about PTSD. In the early moments of the game, the player is given some powerful background information on protagonist BJ Blazkowicz: growing up as a half-Jewish boy to an abusive father and a poor immigrant mother, BJ suffered through a childhood filled with fear and domestic abuse.

He’s thus been traumatized, which has long fueled him and spurred him to become a soldier in the war. The relationship between him, his mother, and his father is explored more as the game goes on, and the intensity with which the story is told is commendable. It’s honest and brutal, and when a campy, gory video game about killing Nazis puts out such a powerful message about toxic masculinity, that is a wonderful thing.

How Video Games Are Saving Those Who Served

Its hard to understate how important video games are to veterans. An idle hobby to some is lifesaving, grounding, and even therapeutic for others, especially those who have served overseas in combat zones. I know it is for me, a Navy veteran who finds the worlds of Mass Effect and Resident Evil 4 more approachable than this one sometimes, and Im not alone. My fellow vets and medical researchers are using video games to treat PTSD, depression, and more, and best of all, its working.

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic doesnt help matters, since it adds to the isolation we all feel. On one not-so-great day, while I was struggling with Covid-19 and depression, my mother called me. I wish I could be there and make you soup, Mom says over the phone. Her mothering is breaking my heart. I say, Then youd catch the virus, and cough out a laugh. I am thinking in contradictions I havent died, but I hope I do die whenever the few hours of sleep I get are broken by heart palpitations, a chilling fever, and memories of trauma. My friend, Dean, just died from the virus. I miss him, and I keep looking forward to seeing his lack of pain. It never comes. Im fine, I lie to her. Im in my third week of coronavirus. Ive already thought about jumping out the window three times today. And its only 11 am.

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Two Studies Explore How Video Games Can Treat Depression

Two new studies suggest video games could aid the treatment of depression. One study, published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, found a video game could address cognitive issues associated with depression in older adults. A second study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found video games can improve symptoms of depression, particularly among people whose depression symptoms are more serious.

Research On The Connection Between Gaming And Stress

Sarah’s Vlog – Do Video Games Help Depression?

Most gamers report that playing video gameseven violent gamesis a way to relieve stress and enjoy playing with friends.

However, much of the research conducted on video games comes with the presumption that games are stressful or even psychologically harmful. While this isnt the whole story, there is some evidence to support this assumption.

Some studies show that a stressful in-game situation leads players to experience a stress reaction in real life. Other studies have found that when people play violent games, they are more likely to act aggressively in laboratory-based scenarios. For instance, players who played violent games for 20 minutes were more likely to blast a loud noise at another subject when given the chance, which was considered an indication of aggression.

Another study found that teens who played violent games experienced minimal increases in feelings of aggression, though the increases were barely detectable teen girls experienced a slight increase in stress.

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Benefits Of Video Games

Playing video games has numerous benefits for your mental health. Video games can help you relieve stress and get your mind going. Some benefits include:

Mental stimulation. Video games often make you think. When you play video games, almost every part of your brain is working to help you achieve higher-level thinking. Depending on the complexity of the game, you may have to think, strategize, and analyze quickly. Playing video games works with deeper parts of your brain that improve development and critical thinking skills.

Feeling accomplished. In the game, you have goals and objectives to reach. Once you achieve them, they bring you a lot of satisfaction, which improves your overall well-being. This sense of achievement is heightened when you play games that give you trophies or badges for certain goals. Trying to get more achievements gives you something to work toward.

Mental health recovery. Regardless of the type, playing games can help with trauma recovery. Video games can act as distractions from pain and psychological trauma. Video games can also help people who are dealing with mental disorders like anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder , and post-traumatic stress disorder .

Emotional resilience. When you fail in a game or in other situations, it can be frustrating. Video games help people learn how to cope with failure and keep trying. This is an important tool for children to learn and use as they get older.

What Research Tells Us About Gaming And Its Effects

In 2017, the proof of concept experiment was conducted to see the impact of gaming on people with depression. In this particular trial, gaming was introduced to adults who were 60+ years old.

The games had problem-solving challenges that users were supposed to solve. It was called Project EVO.

“While EVO was not directly designed to treat depressive symptoms we hypothesized that there may indeed be beneficial effects on these symptoms by improving cognitive issues with targeted treatment, and so far, the results are promising,” said Anguera, lead author and a researcher in neurology and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco .

The results were indeed promising. There was a noticeable improvement in mood and focus retention among the adults within just four weeks of therapy.

Although these trails don’t prove that gaming treats depression, however, they provide us with actionable data that we can use to expand research in this direction. Published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, this research used a custom game to treat depression.

Another example of a purpose-built game to treat depression and anxiety is SPARX.

SPARX is a video game created by researchers in Auckland, New Zealand. Studies found that the game had the same level of effectiveness of that of counseling for their test group, which comprised of children around 15 years old.

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Lost Words: Beyond The Page

Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be tough, and even more so for the delicate mind of a child. This game creatively deals with the crucial coping mechanism of a grief-stricken little girl, who yearns to escape in her fantasy world.

This inventive platformer shifts between her imaginative land of Estoria and her literal diary pages. The latter is full of sketches and phrases that document her life events and convey her whirlwind of emotions as she deals with the prospect of losing her bed-ridden grandmother. Beyond the Page is a majestic ride rife with clever puzzles, vibrant locales, and tear-jerking emotional moments.

An App A Video Game And A Placebo For Depression

Depression The Game on Steam

A larger trial involving more than 600 participants with mild or moderate depression assessed the value of video games in the treatment of depression. One group played Project: EVO. A second group used an app called iPST, which uses problem-solving therapy to reduce depression symptoms. A placebo control group used an app called Health Tips, which offered users healthy suggestions.

All three groups experienced similar improvements in mild depression symptoms, suggesting any purported treatment might help reduce mild depression symptoms. However, participants who were more than mildly depressed saw greater improvements with iPST and Project: EVO than with the placebo app.

The results are preliminary, and researchers do not yet know if the improvements will persist over time. They suggest the potential for an app or video game to treat depression could reduce the cost and time commitment associated with traditional depression treatment options.


  • Anguera, J. A., Gunning, F. M., & Arean, P. A. . Improving late life depression and cognitive control through the use of therapeutic video game technology: A proof-of-concept randomized trial. Depression and Anxiety. doi:10.1002/da.22588
  • Nodell, B. . Game your brain to treat depression, studies suggest. Retrieved from
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    The Relationship Between Video Games And Anxiety Is Associated With Personality Traits

    Most psychologists and other mental health professionals believe that there are five primary personality traits . One of these traits is neuroticism, and it refers to nervousness and being prone to anxiety. Neuroticism is often referred to as an anxious personality.

    Dr. Brent Conrad, a clinical psychologist who writes for Tech Addiction, explains in an article that higher levels of trait anxiety, aggressive behavior, and neuroticism are at a higher risk for video game addiction.

    This does not mean that everyone with anxious personality traits is a gamer, nor does it mean that every gamer is high in the trait neuroticism. It does mean that theres a relationship between having character traits that tend to be nervous and anxious that can make people gravitate toward video games.

    Many find that video games help with anxiety by providing a different focus for thoughts thanks to a need for total concentration on a game. Video games distract from daily troubles by providing an engaging escape.

    Escape is a big part of the allure of gaming. Video games often relieve stress and anxiety. This holds true for not just trait anxiety but a specific type of anxiety disorder as well: social anxiety or social phobia.

    Video Games And Anxiety

    Our mind has the ability to predict potential problems in the future. If this ability gets out of control, then that is what we call anxiety.

    Being addicted to video games causes us anxiety because when we are playing games, we are not doing the things that we know we should do. However, we are not anxious about neglecting them in the present or not having done them in the past. We are actually anxious about the consequences of not addressing those things. Those consequences lie in the future.

    Every anxious thought has its root in the future. Video games do not necessarily cause anxiety, but when they take over your life and you start to neglect other important things, then that creates anxious thoughts.

    Check out our webinar on how anxiety works and how to deal with it.

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    Effect Of Video Games On Mental Health

    When we think of the effect of video games on our mental health, we usually only think of the adverse effects. We believe that video games keep us stuck in life, cause anxiety, depression, and create strain in our relationships. While it is true that video games can contribute to these issues, they are not necessarily the cause, nor are their effects limited to the negative.

    The Good

    Dr. K talks more about what purpose gaming serves for us, and why we get addicted, in this video:

    The Bad

    Video Games And Depression

    10 Video Games I Play to Reduce Stress & Depression Symptoms

    Video games are correlated with increased depression and anxiety. However, correlation does not necessarily imply causation â people who are unhappy or depressed are drawn to video games because they help to suppress negative emotions. They develop a gaming habit that causes them to get stuck in life. Naturally, they end up being unhappy.

    There is a difference between clinical depression and feeling unhappy. Someone can be content in life, but still have underlying feelings of sadness â that is clinical depression. However, if you are stuck in life and are not moving towards your goals, then you will most likely be unhappy. Sometimes, you can have both, and it becomes hard to distinguish one from the other. If you think you are depressed, it is best to get the opinion of a licensed mental health professional.

    Dr. K explains the difference between clinical depression and unhappiness in this video:

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    What Kind Of Video Games Can Help You With Depression Symptoms

    Today, more than 20% of the global population suffers from depression, while a much higher percentage deals with a mental disorder of one form or the other. It is predicted that in 2020, depression will be the second most significant cause of disability globally. Such impact is mainly driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and recession that is sure to run like a wave on a global scale. Naturally, this condition can be treated by getting help from a professional. However, over the years, video games have been proven as a powerful treatment for mild versions of the disorder. Despite the negative stereotype surrounding these games, here are some of those that come in handy to ease the journey of dealing with depression symptoms.

    Some Vets With Ptsd Find Shooter Games Helpful

    One of the questions Colder Carras asked the Veterans in the interview is if they thought shooter games could be bad for them. Ten of the 15 men in the study described a shooter video game as one of their favorites. None of the five women felt the same way.

    It was interesting because many of the participants felt like Veterans with PTSD should not play shooter games, she says. But then some Veterans who had PTSD said shooting games helped them. It sounded strange to hear, ‘They helped me, but people shouldnt play them because they trigger flashbacks. The other interesting thing is that with video games and especially virtual reality, which is a form of exposure therapy for PTSD, applications are coming out that are meant to simulate battlefield conditions as a form of prolonged exposure therapy.

    With virtual reality, a person is immersed in a computer-generated virtual environment, either through the use of a head-mounted display device or in a room where potentially troubling images are everywhere. The images can help people confront feared situations or locations that may not be safe in real life. The goal is to help reduce their levels of fear and anxiety.

    Prolonged exposure therapy is one of the two main psychotherapies offered by VA to treat Veterans with PTSD, along with cognitive processing therapy . They are trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapies that take different approaches.

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