New Study Shows Positive Effects of Casual Gaming

New Study Shows Positive Effects of Casual Gaming

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The results of a study by the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at East Carolina University have been released, showing that casual videogames can have significant stress-relieving and other "mood-lifting" effects.

Underwritten by PopCap Games, which also provided copies of Bejeweled 2, Peggle and Bookworm Adventures for testing purposes, the study ran over six months, using state-of-the-art technology to measure heart-rate variability (HRV), electroencephalography (EEG) and pre- and post-activity mood states (POMS) in the test subjects. Several significant findings were made in relation to the therapeutic use of casual games in the treatment of serious mental and physical disorders.

"I've conducted many clinical studies in the area of recreational therapy in the past, but this was the first one seeking to determine the potential therapeutic value of videogames," said Dr. Carmen Russoniello, director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at the College of Health and Human Performance at East Carolina University. "The results of this study are impressive and intriguing, given the extent of the effects of the games on subjects' stress levels and overall mood. When coupled with the very high degree of confidence we have in those results based on the methodology and technologies used, I believe there is a wide range of therapeutic applications of casual games in mood-related disorders such as depression and in stress-related disorders including diabetes and cardiovascular disease."

Bejeweled was determined to be the most effective stress relieving game in the study, reducing physical stress in test subjects by 54 percent compared to the control group, while Peggle was the most effective in terms of "total mood disturbance," measured across six categories, improving mood by 573 percent compared to the control group. "It's not surprising that Peggle had the greatest effect on overall mood, given the game's over-the-top celebration of players' success each time they complete a level," said Dr. Russoniello. "The other games also provide positive feedback to players, but not to the same extent or in the same 'exhilarating' fashion."

All three games were found to have significant impacts across a number of tested factors, including a reduction in psychological tension, anger and mental fatigue, as well as depression and confusion, two areas that were of particular interest in the test. "All three games, but particularly Peggle, should be used in more focused trials with a group of clinically depressed subjects, to gauge the effects," Russoniello said. "If these games can reduce depression this significantly among a population of people who are not diagnosed with depression, the potential for positively affected the mental state of someone who is in fact depressed is very significant." Of the measured reduction in confusion, he added, "These findings are especially intriguing as they present the possibility that casual games may be useful in ameliorating conditions such as attention deficit disorder, memory loss and general confusion attributed to dementia and Alzheimer's Disease."

As a result of the study's findings, which ran from October 2007 to April 2008 and included 134 people, the Psychophysiology Lab at ECU is planning to start clinical trials in the fall to "determine the efficacy of these games and their prescriptive parameters." Full results of the PopCap Casual Videogame Study are available at the East Carolina University website.

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Underwritten by PopCap Games

Always check the sources of any study. While overall I agree with the findings, since most studies have shown that mental activities keep the brain healthy, the fact that PopCap helped foot this study makes it suspect. You know, like all of those Phillip Morris surveys that said "meh, smoking isn't too bad for you."

When we see a purely independant study, then we can bring in the media, it's just convincing them, that's the problem.

Seconded Gildedtongue!

Studies like this definately can boost the sales of Popcap games, since the study specificaly cited some of them i call bias.

If they had asked around with some other casual game companies they probably could have gotten a few games to use.

The problem is thst most independent reserchers don't want to do a study about videogames. Now that more and more studies are being done, even if they are funded/underwritten/etc, by a game company, it's still enough proof to help a little bit. This is also what causes the independent study groups to say "Hey, lets challenge this study and see if it's true or not."

PopCap's games chill you. Others don't.
Too bad the sample was limited.

Games are already being used in various therapeutic applications, although they tend primarily toward the physical aspect - we've posted a few stories in the past about hospitals and rehab centers that use the Wii as a tool in helping to overcome brain injuries. And while POPCAP PRESENTS SCIENCE may not come across as the most unbiased bit of research you're ever going to find, I think it's a good first step toward understanding the deeper potential of videogames in the "healing process." (God, I hate that term.) Who's to say that deeper and more rigourous follow-up studies, spurred by early efforts like this, won't discover that certain types of games, particularly the PopCap style that involve colour and pattern matching, quick thinking and reaction times, are actually immensely useful tools in helping overcome all kinds of brain-related issues?

See, videogames are good for you... so, mum, could I get the Xbox 360 back?

Full disclosure: I'm the PR flak for PopCap Games :)

I understand that having PopCap's own games used in this study suggests a level of influence over the methodology and/or results. We did not in fact have any involvement in the study itself other than helping to determine which of our games might have the most significant effects on the test subjects. Sure, we could have used other companies' games, but I don't see that this would have made the study any more objective in reality - it simply would have made the study *appear* more objective. And the result would have been one or more additional game companies ballyhooing the study results, which in turn would have made the whole thing seem more like a mercenary PR ploy than a real exploration of the effects of casual games on the mind and body.

PopCap's record of conducting studies and surveys is unrivaled - in the past three years we've commissioned as much research as any other video game maker, despite being a relatively small outfit ourselves. We underwrite these projects in part to learn more about our customers (in the case of surveys) and in part to learn more about our games. Each study or survey tends to prompt us to do the next one. In surveys we've conducted, 85-90% of our customers say that playing our games provides them with stress relief, and we wanted to see how 'real' that customer perception was. The fact that ECU has opted to continue researching the effects of our games, regardless of PopCap's continued involvement/support, should lend some weight to the study findings. Further, the lead researcher on the ECU study is in discussions with the NIH and the Dept. of Defense re: the prospect of using some of PopCap's games in other therapy trials.

Our next customer survey is being conducted right now, and we'll be presenting the results in late May... it will be a fascinating one, looking specifically at 'disabled gamers' - how/when/why people with disabilities play casual games. Why did we decide to do this survey? Because in past surveys 11-14% of our customers have indicated they are disabled to some degree, and because in many emails and phone calls we receive from customers, those with disabilities described a range of benefits that no other segment of our customer base has/had.

Garth Chouteau

Well, if this is a member of PopCap, in the end you still sound extremely subjective rather than objective. The findings sound more like an advert for Peggle than anything else.

What was the control group's activity? Since it seems relatively impossible to perform a doubleblind study, a single blind study might be possible (having a room to the side where the experiment either uses the experimental treatment or the control treatment.) As far as what to use as a control, there are several popular relaxation techniques, ranging from reading, to watching television, to even older games such as Tetris which have previously shown the same results.

In the end, like I said in my first post, while I don't disagree with the findings, it doesn't take more than a first year Journalism student to ask the question "Who says?"

Gildedtongue:
What was the control group's activity?

According to Wired's coverage (written by a participant in the trial, no less) the control activity was web browsing. Participants were selected for either the game or the control group by random draw of an envelope.

I'm hoping that other studies will use variants of this study to confirm (or, alas, contradict) the conclusions of this one.

-- Steve

Gildedtongue:
Well, if this is a member of PopCap, in the end you still sound extremely subjective rather than objective. The findings sound more like an advert for Peggle than anything else.

As far as what to use as a control, there are several popular relaxation techniques, ranging from reading, to watching television, to even older games such as Tetris which have previously shown the same results.

In the end, like I said in my first post, while I don't disagree with the findings, it doesn't take more than a first year Journalism student to ask the question "Who says?"

Well, plenty of actual journalists, not students, have asked that question ('who says') and come away satisfied. Newsweek's science editor devoted 2/3 of a page to the ECU study in the latest issue of that weekly magazine, and she's no pushover.

I'd be very interested in the Tetris study you mention - I'm not aware of any other study that a) used a casual game like Tetris; b) used three methods of measuring subjects' mental and physical state before, during and after gameplay.

As for sounding subjective, I like the way you phrase that: IF I'm a PopCap employee, I "still sound extremely subjective" ;) Hey, if I wasn't subjective, I'd be out of a job :) Do I think the study results are significant? Absolutely, if only because they're leading to all sorts of other studies and opening interesting doors for casual games (yes, thus far this = PopCap games, but no one's stopping other firms from providing their games for use in the myriad studies that are commenced every day in all sorts of fields). Do the findings really read like an ad for Peggle? I don't think so - Peggle had little/no significant impact on subjects' physiological stress, which was the primary focus of the study. That is stated unequivocally in the press release.

I understand the desire for even more 'objective' exploration of the subject at hand, and I would welcome any such information that comes to light. But we have to start somewhere - if PopCap can underwrite one or two studies and end up having our games trialed in four other studies as a result, that feels like progress to me.

 

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