Bejeweled Proposed As Clinical Treatment For Depression, Anxiety

Bejeweled Proposed As Clinical Treatment For Depression, Anxiety

While more mainstream video games are under fire for causing depression, a new study at East Carolina University finds that playing casual puzzle games is an effective way to combat clinical depression and anxiety. Guess who underwrote the study?

East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic have spent the past year putting 60 test subjects meeting the criteria for clinical depression through a grueling series of PopCap-brand casual puzzle games. Using technologies with long, important-sounding names like psychophysiology and biochemical and psychological measurements, the study found that subjects in the video game group experienced an average reduction in depression symptoms of 57 percent.

Subjects that played Bejeweled 2, Bookworm Adventures, and Peggle – all PopCap games, of course – also experienced a significant reduction in anxiety and improvement to all aspects of mood.

The graph below shows how all members of the video game test group shifted into the ‘mild symptoms’ group after playing. It’s a miracle!


In a press release accompanying this news, the study’s author actually suggested that casual games were so effective at treating depression they could potentially be used to replace common treatment options, including medication.

“The results of this study clearly demonstrate the intrinsic value of certain casual games in terms of significant, positive effects on the moods and anxiety levels of people suffering from any level of depression” stated Dr Carmen Russoniello, Director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU and the professor who oversaw the study (as well as previous studies involving the same games’ effects on stress levels). “In my opinion the findings support the possibility of using prescribed casual video games for treating depression and anxiety as an adjunct to, or perhaps even a replacement for, standard therapies including medication.”

I don’t know how far I’d trust a study heralding the positive benefits of casual gaming that’s been underwritten by one of the world’s top publishers of casual games, but the results, if accurate, are quite impressive. We’ve seen video games used as therapy for physical ailments. Why not the mental ones?

Read the full study online.


  • Its an interesting and complex issue. Firstly, I really don’t care for the thought that this Professor is going to compromise her research ethics because of the source of her funding. She’d be shouted out of academia.

    More interestingly is this: if a specific group of people, ie. the clinically depressed, can be affected in a positive way by playing certain videogames, this proves that videogames can have an effect on people’s minds in certain situations. It therefore stands to reason that there may be a situation where certain videogames may affect a certain other group of people in a negative way.

    Its new ground, to be sure, there haven’t been many studies looking for positive effects of videogames. We supporters can’t have it both ways though, we can’t accept this study and use as proof of the greatness of videogames, while maintaining that Anderson’s research into violence in videogames is impossible by principle. This study doesn’t do anything to validate Anderson’s work, but it does serve to demonstrate the possibility of that sort of thing being true.

    Last more specific point is that this study targeted a specific group of people, the clinically depressed. That’s what Anderson’s study never does properly. He says ‘people’ or ‘children’ but there is far too much variance in those groups–and he often studies university students (as many research projects do) and extrapolates from there. So if a negative study wants to stand up against this one, from now on, they’re going to need to be a lot more specific in who they are sampling/targeting.

  • I don’t think games have any kind of amazing ability to cure depression. It’s just the simple act of being able to do something relaxing, that takes you away from your own problems which does in itself provide fun. It’s more of a calming tool than any kind of treatment. Take someone away from games for a week and I’m sure they’ll be back to their normal depression levels.

    Also I will never understand why people like Bejeweled so much when Hexic is so much better.

  • I often fall into a casual gaming trap and play some crappy match 3 game for hours on end…it doesn’t help my anxiety or depression it justs sends me further down the black hole and makes it more difficult to claw my way back out.

  • To be honest, my main issue is Anxiety which unfortunately unleashed some fairly serious depression. The last six months have been fairly traumatic for me.

    I lost all interest in life, which means games, too. I lost interest in all the upcoming titles I was giddy with excitement for, specifically New Vegas and Hot Pursuit (both of which I have finished now) but it was scary how horrendously ill I had become.

    My Mum got me to start playing Farmville and it was one of the best things I could have done. Just the silly NEED to check up on crops and things every X amount of hours was something to FOCUS on. The trouble with Anxiety is that you need to be able to REALLY relax, not just be calm but on a level of relaxation that your body may never have reached before. It’s difficult and depression is an even tougher nut to crack. Those brain chemicals are fun to play with when you try drugs but when they turn around and bite you on the arse in your mid 20’s it can be very hard to cope with.

    I dont think this study proves that JUST casual games ‘fix’ problems, but contribute to returning you back to a positive, happy and healthy person. In the end it’s YOU that needs to do the work. The right medication, relaxation and therapy and you can find yourself back on level ground again.

    So from a personal perspective, casual games are very important, especially a gamer. Now, I’m a professional Bad Company 2 player but I tell you right now, it’s not often I can RELAX even if I’m on a kill streak with the Carl Gustav. The wrong chemicals are pumping, the same ones that bring you back down to ground zero again.

    Oh yeah I played a lot of Peggle over the last few months, satisfying when you win but it can also be frustrating.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!