Gaming Your Mental Health: A Narrative Review on Mitigating Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety Using Commercial Video Games

JMIR Serious Games. 2021 Jun 16;9(2):e26575. doi: 10.2196/26575.


Globally, depression and anxiety are the two most prevalent mental health disorders. They occur both acutely and chronically, with various symptoms commonly expressed subclinically. The treatment gap and stigma associated with such mental health disorders are common issues encountered worldwide. Given the economic and health care service burden of mental illnesses, there is a heightened demand for accessible and cost-effective methods that prevent occurrence of mental health illnesses and facilitate coping with mental health illnesses. This demand has been exacerbated post the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent increase in incidence of mental health disorders. To address these demands, a growing body of research is exploring alternative solutions to traditional mental health treatment methods. Commercial video games have been shown to impart cognitive benefits to those playing regularly (ie, attention control, cognitive flexibility, and information processing). In this paper, we specifically focus on the mental health benefits associated with playing commercial video games to address symptoms of depression and anxiety. In light of the current research, we conclude that commercial video games show great promise as inexpensive, readily accessible, internationally available, effective, and stigma-free resources for the mitigation of some mental health issues in the absence of, or in addition to, traditional therapeutic treatments.

Keywords: accessibility; clinical; commercial video games; health care; mental health disorders; mobile phone; pandemic; psychotherapy.