How Gaming Can Be a Possible Treatment for Depression

Studies show that gaming can very well be a viable treatment for depression.
Kashyap Vyas

Video games have always had a polarizing effect on the masses. Many hail video games as a waste of time and even a pathway to violence. However, the other side backs video games as a productive way to spend time and get the creative juices flowing within them.

Whichever side of the debate you are on, the recent studies are opening a new case for video games altogether– these may help in battling depression and anxiety!


Depression is a medical illness. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) clearly states that it is a treatable mental disorder. 

This mental disorder is more common than you think. Estimates show that depression affects 1 in every 15 adults.

The disease leaves the human mind in intense sadness and loss of pleasure. It makes you think that you are worthless and leads to self-loathing. 

In dire cases, depression can push a person to the edge of taking their own lives.

The troubling matter is not the way depression affects our mind; it is the fact that we don't have a sure shot treatment method that can cure depression and anxiety. Often, doctors try a combination of techniques to see what works and what doesn't. 

Video games to treat depression

Among the possible treatment methods for depression, gaming certainly doesn't seem to make sense. However, recent research data paints a different picture. 

One of the most talked-about treatments for depression is a method called CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This method of therapy has shown to be effective in more than 1000 research studies. 

However, there is a downside to implementing CBT – cost and time. CBT works by helping a person identifying the most important goals in their life and then working towards achieving them. 

This process involves problem-solving methods that help the patient to organize their thoughts and leave out unnecessary distractions. 

The fundamental idea behind CBT is to help the person identify their thoughts and differentiate between realistic and distorted feelings. By understanding the difference between both, a person can avoid the distorted thoughts that often fuel depression. 

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What makes CBT different from other depression treatments is that it is possible to perform CBT without using any form of medication at all! 

Gaming falls within the realm of CBT as a therapeutic method. The core science that drives game logic aligns with the values of CBT.

What research tells us about gaming and its effects 

In 2017, the proof of concept experiment was conducted to see the impact of gaming on people with depression. In this particular trial, gaming was introduced to adults who were 60+ years old. 

The games had problem-solving challenges that users were supposed to solve. It was called Project EVO. 

"While EVO was not directly designed to treat depressive symptoms; we hypothesized that there may indeed be beneficial effects on these symptoms by improving cognitive issues with targeted treatment, and so far, the results are promising," said Anguera, lead author and a researcher in neurology and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

The results were indeed promising. There was a noticeable improvement in mood and focus retention among the adults within just four weeks of therapy. 

Although these trails don't prove that gaming treats depression, however, they provide us with actionable data that we can use to expand research in this direction. Published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, this research used a custom game to treat depression. 

Another example of a purpose-built game to treat depression and anxiety is SPARX

SPARX is a video game created by researchers in Auckland, New Zealand. Studies found that the game had the same level of effectiveness of that of counseling for their test group, which comprised of children around 15 years old.

In 2013, research carried out using commercially available games, and their effects on people with depression show similar results. This test used two groups, having 30 participants each. 

One group played video games for 30 minutes per day while the other group surfed the NIMH's website for 30 minutes 3 times per week. The test duration was 30 days

The results showed that the group that played video games significantly reduced symptoms of clinical depression. The research paper concluded that clinicians should look into using casual video games as a treatment for depression as it was effective and low cost.

What these two studies show is that gaming, commercial, or purpose-built, may very well be useful in treating depression.

Gaming for mental health

Several factors make games effective at helping people with depression. The first and foremost is engagement. 

Games are much more engaging than other forms of depression therapy. It is because games have a reward system where the player gets incentivized for completing the given task. 

This system keeps gamers motivated and engaged. With each new accomplishment, the players get rewarded while setting their sights on the new challenge.

Besides, 91% of children between the ages of 2 and 17 play video games. This figure is quite high to ignore. 

Hence, we must look into ways in which this experience can bring about benefits to the players. 

Gaming has a profound effect on the cognitive functions of the brain. Studies show that gamers who played shooter games showed higher spatial resolution and accurate attention allocation. 

Game designers often do not reveal much information about solving different problems within a game level. This strategy encourages gamers to use different methods and come up with new plans to complete the stage. 

In doing so, gamers expand their thought process, enabling them to think outside the box.


Exploring gaming as a possible solution for treating depression is promising since it is readily available and can be put into practice without much delay. And, with these new studies coming to light, the outlook towards gaming is changing than what it was earlier.

Fighting depression with video games

Depression is a severe issue in people of all ages. We need more effective methods to improve the conditions of those who are affected by it. 

With the data we have got now, gaming seems to be a promising treatment method. Through further in-depth research and trials, we might see gaming as one of the possible solutions towards treating depression.

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