Can video games reduce tension?

Published: April 30th, 2008

As Rock Star North Ltd. promotes its newly-released Grand Theft Auto IV, an American professor of “recreational therapy” has finished an experiment testing the effects of video games on mood.

Carmen Russoniello, a professor at East Carolina University, recently finished a six-month study of people playing Bejeweled 2, Peggle and Bookworm adventures. The study concluded the games could have “potential therapeutic applications,” according to a press release issued by PopCap games, which by sheer coincidence happens to be the developer of these three games.

The school’s department of recreational and leisure studies observed the behaviour of video game players and measured their stress, psychological tension, anger, depression, vigour, fatigue and confusion. For example, people who played Peggle experienced a 66 per cent reduction in “psychological tension” while 43 per cent of those who played Bookworm Adventures experienced a reduction in depression. Rumour has it people who reached the fourth screen in Space Invaders also experienced confusion, though that game was not included in Russoniello’s study.

The East Carolina University study did not include Grand Theft Auto, a game where players can pretend to be criminals taking on rival gang members and robbing banks. The game’s developer, Rock Star North, also makes Bully and Manhunt. We’re not aware of any studies linking these games with mental health but we’re guessing they should appeal to players who have major anger issues to begin with.

It is interesting to note the East Carolina University study found Bejeweled 2 “significantly decreased brain activity associated with avoid/withdrawal activity.” The study did not mention the affect of brain activity associated with avoid/withdrawal activity in people who abandoned their video games in favour of socializing with others.

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