Publication: Habits and preferences of players as a context for the design of game-based digital mental health interventions

Background: Designers of digital interventions for mental health often leverage interactions from games, as the intrinsic motivation that results from game-based interventions may increase participation and perhaps even translate into improved treatment efficacy. However, there are outstanding questions about the suitability (e.g., are desktop or mobile interventions more appropriate?) and intervention potential (e.g., do people with depression activate enough to play?) of games for mental health.

Objective: Designers don't know how to optimally design game interventions, because we don't know the gaming habits or preferences of people with poor mental health. In this paper, we describe the relationship between gaming activity and indicators of well-being.

Methods: We gathered validated scales of well-being (Beck's Depression Inventory: BDI-II, Patient Health Questionnaire: PHQ-9, Trait Anxiety: TA, Basic Psychological Needs Satisfaction: BPNS), play importance (Control over Game Behaviour: control, Gamer Identity: identity), and play behaviour (play frequency, platform preferences, genre preferences) in an online survey (N=491).

Results: The majority of our participants played games a few times a week (45%) or daily (34%). In terms of depression, play frequency was associated with PHQ-9 (P=.003); PHQ-9 scores were higher for those who played daily than for those who played a few times a week or less. Similarly, for BDI-II (P=.01), scores were higher for those who played daily than for those who played once a week or less. Genre preferences were not associated with PHQ-9 (P =.32) or BDI-II (P=.68); however, platform preference (i.e., mobile, desktop, or console) was associated with PHQ-9 (P=.04); desktop-only players had higher PHQ-9 scores than those who used all platforms. Platform preference was not associated with BDI-II (P=.18).
In terms of anxiety, TA was not associated with frequency (P=.23), platform preference (P=.07), or genre preference (P=.99). In terms of needs satisfaction, BPNS was not associated with frequency (P=.25) or genre preference (P=.53), but was with platform preference (P=.01); desktop-only players had lower needs satisfaction than those who used all platforms.
As expected, play frequency was associated with identity (P<.001) and control (P<.001); those who played more identified more as a gamer and had less control over their gameplay. Genre preference was associated with identity (P<.001) and control (P<.001); those who played most common genres had higher control over their play and identified most as gamers. Platform preference was not associated with control (P=.80), but was with identity (P=.001); those who played on all devices identified more as a gamer than those who played on mobiles or consoles only.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that games are a suitable approach for mental health interventions as they are played broadly by people across a range of indicators of mental health. We further unpack the platform preferences and genre preferences of players with varying levels of well-being.

Participants

Regan Mandryk
University of Saskatchewan
Max Birk
University of Saskatchewan

Citation

Mandryk, R.L., Birk, M. 2017. Habits and preferences of players as a context for the design of game-based digital mental health interventions. In Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol. forthcoming, DOI=10.2196/jmir.6906.

BibTeX

@article {
author= {Regan Mandryk and Max Birk},
title= {Habits and preferences of players as a context for the design of game-based digital mental health interventions},
booktitle= {Journal of Medical Internet Research},
year= {2017},
volume= {forthcoming}
}