New Bern, NC – Game manufacturer PopCap had an interesting though good problem they wanted an answer to.
"What they said was we've got these games and they're very, very popular and we can't figure out why. Actually he said we're making so much money and we can't find out why."
Carmen Russoniello, an associate professor at ECU in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies. To help them figure out where all that money was coming from, his department developed a survey of people playing such PopCap games as Bejeweled, Bookworm and Peggle.
"Upwards of 80% of them said they played these games because they decreased their stress and increased their mood."
Russoniello led a study of those people which included electroencephalography to measure brain activity and running psychological tests on them to back up what participants said stress down, mood up which raised a different question.
"So that led us to say well, if it will do this in normal people will it effect people with an actual clinical condition."
And that led to Russoniello's latest study also underwritten by PopCap. They got 60 people diagnosed with depression and brought them into the lab. A control group of 30 spent that time looking at a National Institute of Mental Health website about depression, the other 30 spent half-an-hour playing PopCap video games.
"First off, it clearly indicates the folks in that experimental group, the game group, their depression decreased, compared to that control group."
Actually, the control groups numbers dropped too, but not to the degree as those playing video games. For example, 8 people in the control group reported moderate-to-severe depression symptoms prior to viewing the Mental Health website. That number dropped to two afterwards. But of 7 people reporting moderate-to-severe symptoms prior to their video game session, none of them reported that level of symptoms afterwards. Those in the video game group, in addition to their observed sessions, were asked to play the games at home at least three times a week for 30 minutes at a time.
"We asked them to keep a record of the time they spent, I think the average was about 42, 46 minutes, it was over, which speaks to the number one problem with medicine which is compliance so here were people given a prescription and if nothing else they were doing it for the time they were asked."
Despite the positive results, Russoniello isn't ready to put video game therapy on the same level as talk therapy or drug therapy but he does hope to do further studies to see if video game usage could be used as an adjunct to traditional therapies. In fact, he wonders if to some degree people are already ahead of that curve and using video games as part of their self-treatment.
"Their demographics around that game Bejeweled which in our study had the greatest impact overall, and its more of a meditative type of game, their demographic for that is 34-year-old women mostly. Well, guess what the number one time for major depression to set in for women is? Right around that same age. And so we started to see these similarities between this condition and people perhaps gravitating toward these interventions, if you will, to help alleviate their problems."
Carmen Russoniello is an associate professor at ECU in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies and Director of their Psychophysiology lab and biofeedback clinic. I'm George Olsen.