The Emerging Role of Serious Games and Gamification in Mental Health

Digital Mental Health Solutions

In the digital age, the intersection of gaming and health is opening new avenues for mental health interventions.

Read more: The Emerging Role of Serious Games and Gamification in Mental Health

The 2017 study “Serious Games and Gamification for Mental Health: Current Status and Promising Directions” by Fleming Theresa M. and colleagues, published in “Frontiers in Psychiatry,” explores how computer games, particularly serious games and gamification, can positively impact mental health. This blog delves into the study’s findings and the potential of these digital tools in mental health care, especially in the context of sports.

The Rise of Applied Games in Mental Health

Computer games, once solely for entertainment, are now being harnessed for serious purposes, including health and education. Applied games, which encompass serious games (games designed for a serious purpose) and gamification (the use of game elements in non-game contexts), are showing potential in enhancing the impact of mental health interventions.

Extending Reach and Improving Engagement

One of the key benefits of serious games in mental health is their ability to reach individuals who might not otherwise engage with traditional mental health resources. Furthermore, they improve engagement through a combination of game-based and serious motivational dynamics, making mental health interventions more appealing and accessible, particularly to younger audiences and athletes who are already familiar with digital technology.

Mechanisms for Change: Therapeutic and Gaming Features

Serious games and gamification in mental health operate through various mechanisms. These include traditional therapeutic processes and specific gaming features that make the experience engaging and effective. This dual approach can be particularly beneficial in sports settings, where athletes might be more receptive to digital and interactive forms of mental health support.

Evidence of Effectiveness and Categories of Applied Games

The study highlights the promising evidence of effectiveness for serious games targeting depression. It categorizes applied games into six major types: exergames, virtual reality, cognitive behavior therapy-based games, entertainment games, biofeedback, and cognitive training games. This diversity allows for personalized approaches to mental health care, catering to different preferences and needs.

The Feasibility of Translating Traditional Interventions into Gaming Formats

An exciting aspect of this field is the feasibility of translating evidence-based interventions into gaming formats. This not only makes mental health care more accessible but also allows for the exploitation of computer game features to induce therapeutic change. In sports, where mental training is as crucial as physical training, these gaming formats can be seamlessly integrated into athletes’ routines.

The Potential and Challenges Ahead

Serious games have considerable potential to increase the impact of online interventions for mental health. However, challenges remain, including the need for more independent trials and direct comparisons between game-based and non-game-based interventions. The study calls for faster iterations, rapid testing, non-traditional collaborations, and user-centered approaches to meet diverse needs in rapidly changing environments.

In conclusion, the study by Fleming Theresa M. and colleagues sheds light on the significant potential of serious games and gamification in mental health, particularly in the context of sports. As we continue to embrace digital solutions, these innovative approaches could revolutionize mental health care for athletes and the broader population.


Fleming Theresa M., Bavin Lynda, Stasiak Karolina, Hermansson-Webb Eve, Merry Sally N., Cheek Colleen, Lucassen Mathijs, Lau Ho Ming, Pollmuller Britta, Hetrick Sarah. (2017). Serious Games and Gamification for Mental Health: Current Status and Promising Directions. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 7. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00215. Link to Article

Photo by Lorenzo Herrera on Unsplash

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