East Carolina University has published the results of a clinical study that attempted to measure the impact of playing so-called casual video games on players’ moods and stress levels by measuring changes in heart rate, brain activity via electroencephalography, and pre/post-gaming mood state profiles). The results? Casual video games can have a significant positive impact on subjects’ moods and stress levels—so much so, that the East Carolina University is planning to start clinical trials to determine the therapeutic value of the games.
The study was funded by casual game developer PopCap, which has been getting into trying to quantify the audience and benefits of casual gaming.
The study included 134 subjects, 31 of whom served as a control group, while the others were monitored while playing PopCap games Bejeweled 2,Bookworm Adventures, and Peggle. The study monitored heart rate variability, collected psychological data based on pre- and post-activity interviews, and took electroencephalograms (both baselines and during gameplay) in an effort to assess subjects’ tension, anger, depression, vigor, fatigue, and confusion. The study found that playing casual games had pronounced impacts on all these characteristics, although the amount varied by game and with the gender of players: for instance, female participants playing Peggle registered a 40 percent greater improvement in mood than males, which the study attributed in part to the game’s “over-the-top” celebration of players’ achievements.
“The results of this study are impressive and intriguing, given the extent of the effects of the games on subjects’ stress levels and overall mood,” said Dr. Carmen Russoniello, associate professor of recreational therapy and director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU’s College of Health and Human Performance. “When coupled with the very high degree of confidence we have in those results based on the methodology and technologies used, I believe there is a wide range of therapeutic applications of casual games in mood-related disorders such as depression and in stress-related disorders including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
The researchers emphasize that the study is only a first step, and plan to present the results at the Games for Health conference in Baltimore on May 8. The results will be published in an unnamed peer-reviewed journal later this year.
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