How These Video Games are Tackling Depression

World of Warcraft doesn’t count — these games are backed by science.

We’re strong advocates for setting boundaries with technology, but we love when science and technology come together to the benefit of our well-being. Case in point: A new study from UC Davis, to be published in Computers in Human Behavior, suggests that video games designed by researchers may be able to help people with depression feel more in control of their mental health.

Researchers recruited 160 students (averaging around 21-years-old) suffering from depression to play six, three-minute video games. The games were adaptations of neuropsychological “brain training” tasks that have previously been shown to help improve “cognitive control” among those suffering from depression, as a UC Davis post about the findings explains. The games were designed to encourage users to keep playing them in the future, with messages ending with, “just like a regular workout, much of the benefit of these tasks comes from using them without taking breaks and putting in your best effort.”

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Framing depression as something caused by internal factors (like a chemical imbalance) before the games started made participants feel as though they could control their depression, according to the UC Davis post. When depression was positioned as external — triggered by things like a bad relationship or job — participants spent more time playing the games, but the researchers aren’t sure if that approach actually increased feelings of control.

More research needs to be done to figure out whether feeling in control of depression actually reduces depressive symptoms, but these are hopeful findings. If research-backed “brain training” and reframing of how we think about depression may help people feel more in charge of their mental health, we can get behind the additional (if minimal) screen-time required.

Read more about the study here.