The Role of Serious Video Games in the Treatment of Disordered Eating Behaviors: Systematic Review

J Med Internet Res. 2022 Aug 29;24(8):e39527. doi: 10.2196/39527.


Background: Eating disorders and other forms of disordered eating cause significant complications and comorbidities in patients. However, full remission with current standard treatment remains low. Challenges to treatment include underdiagnosis and high dropout rates, as well as difficulties in addressing underlying emotion dysregulation, poor impulse control, and personality traits. Serious video games (SVGs), which have the advantages of being highly engaging and accessible, may be potential tools for delivering various forms of treatment in addressing the underlying psychopathology of disordered eating.

Objective: This review aims to provide an overview of the possible mechanisms by which SVGs may affect the clinical course of disordered eating, while evaluating the outcomes of studies that have assessed the role of SVGs in the treatment of disordered eating.

Methods: A systematic search was performed on PubMed, PsycINFO, and Embase, using keywords related to SVGs, disordered eating, and eating disorders. A narrative synthesis was subsequently carried out.

Results: In total, 2151 papers were identified, of which 11 (0.51%) were included. Of these 11 studies, 10 (91%) were randomized controlled trials, and 1 (9%) was a quasi-experimental study. The types of SVG interventions varied across the studies and targeted different mechanisms of disordered eating, ranging from addressing problem-solving and emotion regulation skills to neurocognitive training for inhibitory control. Most (10/11, 91%) of the studies showed some benefit of the SVGs in improving certain physical, behavioral, or psychological outcomes related to disordered eating. Some (4/11, 36%) of the studies also showed encouraging evidence of the retention of these benefits at follow-up.

Conclusions: The studies included in this review provide collective evidence to suggest the various roles SVGs can play in plugging potential gaps in conventional therapy. Nonetheless, challenges exist in designing these games to prevent potential pitfalls, such as excessive stress arising from the SVGs themselves or potential gaming addiction. Further studies will also be required to assess the long-term benefits of SVGs as well as explore their potential preventive, and not just curative, effects on disordered eating.

Keywords: digital health; disordered eating; eHealth; eating disorders; gamification; mHealth; mobile health; serious games; serious video games; video games.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Comorbidity
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Problem Solving
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Self Care
  • Video Games* / psychology