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Study: Casual games ease anxiety and depression

Can playing casual video games be good for you? They might be if you suffer from clinical depression, according to the results of a new study carried out at East Carolina University (ECU) and underwritten by PopCap. The study followed 60 subjects suffering from clinical depression, and measured the effect that playing three family-friendly, non-violent games had upon their symptoms and mood. The result: subjects who played the casual games saw an average 57 percent reduction in depression symptoms compared to subjects who did not play the games, as well as improvements in overall mood and an average 20 percent reduction in anxiety levels.

“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,” said the director of ECU’s psychophysiology lab and biofeedback clinic Dr. Carmen Russoniello, in a statement. “Given that only 25 percent of people who suffer from depression are receiving treatment, it seems prudent to make these low cost, readily accessible casual games video games available to those who need them. They should be made available at health clinics, community centers, online ‘medical sites,’ and given out by therapists as a means of intervention.”

The study tracked 60 subjects suffering from clinical depression, monitoring their biochemical, pyscho-physiological, and psychological states. Half the subjects played PopCap’s Bejeweled, Peggle, and Bookworm Adventures games, while the rest were in a control group. The “video game group” saw across-the-board reductions in depression, with seven subjects classified as suffering from moderate to severe depression moving to minor or minimal depression categories during the study. The number of subjects classified as suffering from minor depression dropped from nine to four. Even physical symptoms of anxiety and depression improved by an average of 36 percent in to video game group.

The video game group demonstrated both short- and long-term benefits from playing: subjects in the video game group showed improvements in depression and anxiety after 30 minutes of game play compared to the control group, as well as long-term benefits spanning the month-long study.

The study claims to be the first to measure the impact of video games in reducing depression and anxiety. Results of the study should be available from the ECU Web site, although the link was not working at time of publication.

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