The Effects of Casual Videogames on Anxiety, Depression, Stress, and Low Mood: A Systematic Review

Games Health J. 2020 Aug;9(4):255-264. doi: 10.1089/g4h.2019.0132. Epub 2020 Feb 13.


Background: Despite the variety of available treatments for mental health symptoms, many individuals do not engage with treatment and among those who do, dropout rates are often high. Therefore, providing alternative opportunities to access treatment is imperative. Research interest in the therapeutic effects of digital mental health initiatives and serious games has grown in recent years, but the potential of simple, easy-to-use casual videogames (CVGs) that can be played in short bursts of time has seldom been considered. Objective: The objective of the present study is to provide a systematic review of the literature examining the effects of CVGs on treating anxiety, depression, stress, and low mood. Method: A systematic search was conducted, using the terms (casual gam* or casual videogam* or mini gam* or minigam* or mini-gam* or gamif*) and (mental health or anx* or depress* or stress or mood) and (study or trial or treatment or prescribed or prevention) as "Title," "Abstracts," "Keywords," or "Topic" words across all years. A Google search was also completed to check for articles that may have been missed. Results: N = 13 studies met inclusion criteria (no studies were added via the Google search). These studies reported findings for nine different CVGs, with six studies aimed at reducing anxiety, two examining effects for depression, and four investigating the effects of CVGs on treating stress or low mood. Promising effects were identified. Conclusion: CVGs may have promise for treating anxiety, depression, stress, and low mood.

Keywords: Anxiety; Casual videogames; Depression; Mental health; Mood; Stress.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / classification
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Depression / classification
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Humans
  • Mood Disorders / classification
  • Mood Disorders / psychology
  • Mood Disorders / therapy
  • Play Therapy / instrumentation
  • Play Therapy / standards*
  • Play Therapy / trends
  • Stress, Psychological / classification
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Video Games / psychology
  • Video Games / standards*
  • Video Games / trends