Video Games May Present Healthful Benefits for Those Suffering from Depression

Those who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses, often turn to their doctors or therapists for answers to their condition and medications to relieve them of their symptoms. Now, an article in the Washington Post suggests a new type of therapy: video games. To try and determine if there truly is a link between mental health benefits and participating in playing of the video game Bejeweled, manufacturer PopCap commissioned and funded a study. Researchers determined that those volunteers who played Bejeweled displayed improved mood and heart rhythms compared with volunteers who weren’t playing. PopCap is now set to launch a second phase of testing to determine if video games can have measurable effects on clinical markers of depression. This study and subsequent publishing of the findings is part of a broad array of unconventional efforts by video game companies to try and develop a new market for their products. This seems to be in direct contrast with the addictive aspects of video games and the impact that can have on a person’s mental health. Carmen Russoniello, director of the psychophysiology lab and biofeedback clinic at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., is conducting the controlled research studies for PopCap. According to Russoniello, some games appear to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can reduce the heightened tension that is a natural response to stress. Russoniello suggests these health benefits may be the result of the reality that many people in Western countries find it impossible to switch off and therefore, they are always alert and stressed out. Anytime this Type A personality tries to relax, he or she will get bored because they have come to require a certain level of stressful arousal. Playing the video games offers just enough mental challenge to keep such people occupied while putting them into a state of relative mindlessness. Such a state appears to have salutary effects on stress and other mental problems.

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