New Genre of Video Games Target Mental Health

It's not all fun and violence in video games, according to makers of a new genre of games which claim to boost players' mental health and self-esteem.

A group of developers inspired by the success of Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s "Brain Age" title that gets the gray matter working with math and word puzzles, hopes to harness the power and popularity of video games to boost psychological health.

Among them is Tokyo-based Dimple Entertainment, which in May will begin selling the unconventional title "DS Therapy" in Japan for Nintendo's (7974.OS) hand-held DS player.

Answer a few light-hearted questions on topics ranging from love to money and the title promises to deliver a measurement on your mental and emotional health on a daily basis.

Mark Baldwin, a psychology professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and designer of another new title "MindHabits Booster," is hoping his game will make people feel good about themselves.

Baldwin and his research team designed the game based on social psychology research after finding that repetitive components from video game play could be used to shape the way people think and how they perceive themselves.

The game, distributed via, tries to address insecurity and stress by having players repeatedly pick a smiling, approving face from a group of frowning faces, training players to look for acceptance and ignore rejection.

"All it does is change your attention from one thing to another, but that can make a big difference (in self-esteem and lower stress)," said Baldwin, who is releasing new game study results later this year and hopes to take his game from the lab to stores.

While most of the headline-grabbing research around video games has tended to probe the link between violent games and aggressive behavior, there is a growing body of research looking at the more positive impact of play.

A study conducted by West Virgina University and supported by Konami Digital Entertainment claimed that consistent usage of the "Dance Dance Revolution" game "improved the health, attitudes, and behaviors of participating children."

Researchers at the University of Rochester recently reported finding that children and adults play video games because they fulfill basic psychological needs such as opportunities for achievement, freedom and a sense of connection to others.

Mary Jane Zamora, 50, doesn't need an academic to tell her that playing games has helped to boost her well-being.

Zamora, of Redondo Beach, California, is recovering from a bout with breast cancer and has been rebuilding her strength and agility playing virtual golf, bowling and tennis on Nintendo's new Wii console, which has a motion-sensing controller that lets players mimic real-world moves.

Zamora, who worked in advertising for years, said the games helped her visualize her new life after her "year of fear."

"My life is coming back. It's not about loss. It's about setting aside what I was and evolving into an even better person ... This has been a cornerstone," said Zamora