Games Can Treat Anxiety – The Research

Games Can Treat Anxiety – The Research

This series of articles explores the current clinical research that exists around the benefits that playing video games can have for wellbeing. Wherever we can, we have linked to a free full version of the publication, and otherwise refer to its abstract.


Today we’re looking at the how video games might be able to treat clinical anxiety.


The Efficacy of Prescribed Casual Videogame Play in Reducing Symptoms of Anxiety: A Randomized Controlled Study.

Fish MT, Russoniello CV, O’brien K. Games Health J. 2014;3(5):291-5.


This study specifically looked at casual video game use in depressed people who also had symptoms of anxiety. A casual video game, in the research sense, is one that can be bought off the shelf (ie normal video games) as opposed to ones made specifically to treat mental health issues.


The team identified participants who had mild depression using an internationally recognised scale – the PHQ-9. They divided them into two groups, and one group played video games three times a week, for 30 minutes each time, for a month. The abstract doesn’t state what conditions the control group had.


After the month, they used a scale called the State Trait Anxiety Inventory which is a reliable measure of anxiety symptoms. They found the group who played video games had significantly reduced anxiety symptoms and reduced symptom severity compared to the control group.


Empirical Evidence for the Outcomes of Therapeutic Video Games for Adolescents With Anxiety Disorders: Systematic Review.

Barnes S, Prescott J.  Eysenbach G, ed. JMIR Serious Games. 2018;6(1):e3. [Full text]


A systematic review is a study that doesn’t do any new investigating of its own – instead it gathers all of the other papers that have been published about a topic, and it adds all of their results together to see whether there is a pattern. Ultimately we can find out what the majority of studies have found and how likely it is to be true.


This very recent study collected data from papers which looked at reducing anxiety in teenagers using video games. They found 5 studies with a total of 410 participants, which is relatively few – we need to do more! The collated results were very promising, showing a clinically measurable reduction in anxiety symptoms for participants across the board.


The prevalence of anxiety is very high, and can be debilitating for sufferers. With games being such a cheap, accessible and familiar way of engaging, it is good news indeed that there is promise shown for them being used as a clinical treatment of anxiety disorders.