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Are Video Games Good for Your Health?

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By Eirish Sison

Whether they involve launching angry red birds at evil green pigs or wielding an arsenal of weapons to kill zombies, video games are everywhere, and are played by almost everyone. In 2010, a survey by market research company Nielsen found that 10.2 percent of U.S. Internet time is spent playing games. That's a total of 407 million hours in a month, which doesn't even include games played offline, on portable devices or gaming consoles. Spending that much time playing video games can't possibly be good for you, can it?

New research shows that it could be, at least for your mental health. A study from East Carolina University's Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic measured how effective playing casual video games is at reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Fifty-nine participants who had clinical depression were split into two groups. One group was asked to browse the website of the National Institute of Mental Health while the other group played their choice of one of three casual video games.

Researchers measured physiological and psychological responses in both groups after 30 minutes of activity, and also after one month, during which members of the video game group played their chosen video game for at least 30 minutes, three times a week, with at least a day in between sessions.

The results show that it may actually be possible to play the blues away. A 57 percent average decrease in depression symptoms was seen among participants in the video game group. Decreases in anxiety symptoms, levels of tension, anger, fatigue, confusion and an increase in vigor were also reported.

However, promising as these results may be, they must be taken with a grain of salt, since the study was funded by PopCap Games, a leading developer of casual video games. In fact, the three games that the experimental group chose from in the study - Bejeweled 2, Peggle and Bookworm Adventures - are all PopCap products.

We asked Cynthia Green, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in New York, author of Total Memory Workout and Brainpower Game Plan and recognized authority on memory and brain health, to weigh in on the study: "I think the study was small and needs to be replicated. I also have concerns about the source of the funding. That said, I believe that there may be therapeutic benefits to casual gaming. For example, some gaming may allow for a sense of regained mastery and control, and other positive feedback. Such experience may be helpful for someone in emotional distress."

While there may be some positive effects associated with playing video games, they are far from being all fun and games when it comes to one's mental health. Here's a look at the potential dark side of being a gamer.

 

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