Messaging Can Prompt Use of Video Games for Depression

New research finds that messaging can help to inspire people to play video games that are designed to relieve depression.

The study expands on the relatively new concept of using video games and “brain training” as an effective treatment for depression.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, discovered that when the video game users were messaged reminders, they played the game more often and in some cases increased the time spent playing.

“Through the use of carefully designed persuasive message prompts … mental health video games can be perceived and used as a more viable and less attrition-ridden treatment option,” said the authors.

The research was led by graduate student Subuhi Khan and Dr. Jorge Pena, professor in the Department of Communication at University of California, Davis, with the paper forthcoming in Computers in Human Behavior.

The messages, and subsequent games assigned, targeted depression that could be perceived as either internal — caused by a chemical imbalance or hereditary factor; or depression that could come from outside factors — such as a job or relationship situation.

The messaging had slight differences in approach, but ended on basic inspirational notes to inspire the participant to play the game.

Each message ended 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.”

Using six three-minute games, the study found in most cases that playing the specifically designed game helped subjects feel they had some control over their depression.

Each game was an adaptation of neurophysiological training tasks that have been shown to improve cognitive control among people experiencing depression.

Portraying depression as something caused internally because of biological factors and providing a video game-based app for brain training made participants feel that they could do something to control their depression, explain the researchers.

This link is consistent with other research that shows that brain-training games have the potential to induce cognitive changes. Those users also gave high ratings for the usability of the app.

On the other hand, portraying depression as a condition caused by external factors led users to spend more time playing the game. In this case, playing the game repeatedly perhaps gave the participants a feeling of control over their situation.

But researchers said this result was likely due to immediate engagement and was unlikely to have long-term benefits.

The study did not examine whether playing the games actually reduced depression, although that will be looked at in future studies, the authors said.

Researcher participants consisted of 160 student volunteers who said they suffered from mild depression. They received class credit for participating. Three-fourths were women, and more than half of the subjects were of Asian heritage, followed by white, Latino, and other ethnicities. The average age was 21.

Source: University of California, Davis