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superbetter"Digital games are being investigated to treat serious medical conditions," like anxiety and depression, reports Angela Chen in The Wall Street Journal (5/6/14). Among them is SuperBetter, which "helps people develop skills similar to those taught in cognitive-behavioral therapy," according to Jane McGonigal, its creator. The issue is that those "with anxiety or depression often obsess over worst-case scenarios." Part of the game is to defeat a negative psychic "by challenging her doomsday predictions."

SuperBetter also motivates users to complete certain tasks that can help address anxiety or depression, such as going outside or contacting a friend. In one study, the game reduced depression significantly after one month of use. "It can help you notice bad habits or negative thinking patterns that get in the way of you feeling better or stronger," says Jane. Another game, called Personal Zen, "has players focus their attention on happy faces and ignoring negative ones."

In a trial, "participants who played Personal Zen for 25 minutes and then had to give a speech had less anxiety than a control group." How well such games work "may depend on what type of person you are," however. Doctoral students Jonna Koivisto and Juho Hamari found that "success-oriented" types who respond to "external validation such as points and badges may benefit more than ‘achievement-oriented’ people who may not see the point of the games." Experts also advise that the games do not replace "face-to-face therapy."