Mobile, desktop and console games to help fight depression, anxiety and other mental health issues
Surely, cried the experts, any amount of time spent furiously button-bashing our way through what were often graphic, violent virtual environments could only inspire a generation of children to take what they’d learned on the game consoles of the time and channel it into a life of crime, depression and poor health back here in the real world? And that’s before we even get onto the inevitable isolation caused by a marathon session indulging in the latest franchise.
A worry, yes, but as time went on it seemed those concerns were become ever-more unfounded, especially as the gaming industry began to evolve, embracing the idea that, as evidence has since proven, video games can actually be good for you.
Indeed, you only need look as far as the runaway success of the Nintendo Wii, with its physical fitness promoting titles such as Wii Fit and Wii Sports to see how the previously maligned industry could use its influence for good.
Not that jumping around and burning off the calories is the only way that playing our favorite console or online platform can actually have some benefits to our well-being. In 2012, a research team from New Zealand announced promising results from a study in which they cured 44% of their teenage test group of serious depression using a game called SPARX.
The praise for SPARX (and the team behind it) is only one example of how games can be used to exercise the brain and improve mental health. Here’s just 10 more.
Looking for PC Games? Read AnxietyPanda’s 6 Enjoyable Examples of Games that help for Anxiety
1: Super Mario
Let’s start with one we’re all familiar with, shall we? Even if you’re not exactly an avid gamer, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the little Italian plumber who sets off to rescue the Princess, and who became one of the biggest cultural icons of the early 1990s.
Back in 2013, a study carried out by the Max Panck Institute for Human Development asked 23 adults to play the 3D game “Super Mario 64” for 30 minutes a day over a two-month period, whilst another group was told not to play any video games at all during that time.
The results were intriguing. Those in the “Play Mario” group showed a notable increase of grey matter in the part of the brain responsible for things like memory formation, planning, and spatial navigation.
“The present study can demonstrate the direct causal link between video gaming and a volumetric brain increase,”said the experiment’s principal coordinator Simone Kühn who, along with her colleagues, believes that games like Mario could be used as a therapy for those living with the kind of mental health disorders that involve shrinking or altering in brain regions.
2: Personal Zen
No doubt this awesome little app will be more along the lines of what you were expecting from a site like Elephant Journal. A free game available via iTunes, Personal Zen has been proven to reduce anxiety by challenging players to focus on positivity as you follow two characters -one in a positive state and the other an angry, grumpy looking guy- through several levels of gameplay.
3: Positive Activity Jackpot
There’s research out there that proves a positive link between the rush of gambling and the release of endorphins in the brain. Whilst you could always opt for any of virtual gambling platforms to indulge in a round of roulette or play casino card games online, you may prefer this Android app instead.
Positive Activity Jackpot’s original intention was to help returning members of the armed forces deal with the effects of post-traumatic stress, but functions just as well in helping anyone deal with depression.
Download the app, and your Android will use augmented reality to find nearby activities that can keep you occupied, a helpful tool to overcome depressive thoughts. If you can’t decide which one to do, pulling the jackpot lever will make the decision for you.
A lot has been written about how solving puzzles can help combat mental health problems, increase concentration, and even provide a sense of focus for those overcoming addiction. For our money, puzzle games don’t get any better than the classic Tetris, in which you navigate a series of free-falling blocks into place, piecing them together to clear rows. Tetris can be played for free online, though games for mobiles, laptops and video game consoles are also good options.
5: Second Life
Less of an actual game and more of an open sandbox-type virtual world, Second Life has proven a popular platform for those living with long term physical and mental health issues, especially those that lead to being housebound. By having a platform to express their creativity and interact with others, Second Life helps combat feelings of anxiety, isolation, and depression.
6: Project Evo
Project Evo isn’t technically available yet, but it’s already earning much acclaim in both tech and mental health circles as the first “prescription-strength” therapy for mental illness.
Developed by a team made up of cognitive neuroscientists and software developers, the game helps improve neural functioning and cognitive symptoms through a simple app-based video game. There’s even the chance to track progress so that users can enjoy seeing the benefits of their gaming in real time.
Designed to help users deal with stress and overcome negative thoughts, this charming little app combines games, puzzles, and quizzes with tips, techniques and even a gratitude journal to promote a positive outlook on life.
8: Wii Fit
We mentioned the Wii’s success in promoting positive physical health at the start of the article, but it’s well worth discussing again here. After all, the relationship between physical activity and the release of endorphins in the brain has been well documented and having a home-based video game with which to exercise can be a big boost for those whose mental health concerns may prevent them from going a gym, exercise class, or even out for a run.
The ReliefLink app game has won awards for in preventing suicides, though even if your mental health hasn’t taken you to that extreme, the combination of daily tracking and helpful tools you can use helps you turn improving your mood into a game, complete with the boost that having a sense of achievement in taking a pro-active approach to mental health can bring.
Fans of the Ted Talks series will likely have already seen game designer Jane McGonigal’s highly praised talk ‘The game that can give you 10 extra years of life’ in which she discusses creating a game to help her overcome both the physical and mental health challenges she faced following an illness. We could tell you more, but instead, we’ll let Jane explain all in the following video:
Author: Chris Skoyles
Chris Skoyles is a freelance writer, coach, and consultant currently training to become a qualified counselor. He specializes in addiction, mental health, and helping others to achieve their goals. Watch him on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/user/cskoyles/videos Or connect on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Cskoyles