Peggle Is Good For You

By Alec Meer on April 28th, 2008 at 5:25 pm.

The real purpose of press releases is to issue outrageous statements to as many journalists as possible in the hope they’ll namecheck you when they inevitably repeat it. And hey, it works. Popcap send me a release saying stuff like “Bejeweled 2 and Peggle were shown to reduce anger by 65% and 63% respectively” – of course I’m going to post that.

It’s all part of a study (involving 132 subjects) by East Carolina University as to the positive effects of playing casual games. Test subjects were given a raft of Popcap games to play, so, quite understandably, Popcap is now giving props to itself.

This is, however, actualish science, not spurious “our tealady only smiles when playing Chuzzle” stuff.

Says Dr. Caremen Russoniello, associate professor and director of the Psychophysiology and Biofeedback Center at ECU:

“I’ve conducted many clinical studies in the area of recreational therapy in the past, but this was the first one seeking to determine the potential therapeutic value of video games. The results of this study are impressive and intriguing, given the extent of the effects of the games on subjects’ stress levels and overall mood.

When coupled with the very high degree of confidence we have in those results based on the methodology and technologies used, I believe there is a wide range of therapeutic applications of casual games in mood-related disorders such as depression and in stress-related disorders including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Granted, this study was a first step and much more needs to be done before video games can be prescribed to treat medical conditions. However, these exciting results confirm anecdotal evidence that people are playing casual video games to improve their mood and decrease their stress, and herald casual games’ potential in health promotion, disease prevention, and treatment of stress- and mood-related disorders.”

Only Bejeweled had a significant effect on stress, but a slew of mood-affecting factors were tested for: psychological tension, anger, depression, vigour, fatigue and the amusingly nebulous ‘confusion.’ Peggle was clear champ, improving the total ‘mood’ by 573% across all study subjects, followed by Bejeweled 2 at 435% and Bookworm Adventures at 303%. Dr Russoniello notes this about Peggle’s 45% reduction of depression: “If these games can reduce depression this significantly among a population of people who are not diagnosed with depression, the potential for positively affecting the mental state of someone who is in fact depressed is very significant.”

Which is great – if it proves true, and not one-off number-fun. PC gaming is good for you is certainly a dream headline for a medium that consistently has to defend itself against accusations that it turns people into slovenly psychopaths. In terms of what to take from this lone test right now though, I don’t know how much it’s genuinely proven. But I’m a cynic, not a scientist. I’ll admit that casual games – Peggle and Audiosurf specifically – tend to be my first recourse when I’m feeling a bit down or hungover, but had presumed that’s more to do with their undemanding simplicity than because I think they’ll make me feel better.

As for the Popcap element, I do find myself wishing the test had involved a broader spectrum of games. Not so much because it comes across a little like a promotional stunt, but rather because Popcap’s eyewateringly profitable place at the top of the casual foodchain means its games are that much more cash-injected, and thus polished, than much of the competition.

I suspect a lot more time, energy and focus grouping goes into making sure their games incite delight, and never frustration, than does into Random Shockwave Bejeweled clone #4324. The ever-escalating notes, the regular sense of accomplishment, the invisible learning curve, the lack of punishment… In other words, Popcap’s casual games – or at least the three gems in this test – are pretty much the pinnacle of the form today. What would the results have been like if Puzzle Quest and its cheaty AI was in there, for instance?

So, ‘games make you happier’, or even just ‘casual games make you happier’, is sadly far too broad a declaration to make – like saying ‘games make you savagely beat up journalists’ when the only game in the study was “Kieron Says Horrifyingly Insulting Things About Your Mum VII”. Which is great news for Popcap, of course, but I do hope there’s a follow-up test with a whole buncha stuff in it.

(Ever-awesome main image by Dartt, who’s clearly having quite the day on RPS).
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13 Comments »

  1. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Zuma > Peggle

  2. dazed says:

    kinda OT, but where oh where is that first image from? is that “shopped”?

  3. trioptimum says:

    This experimental procedure should be mandatory for every game ever released. And the results printed on the boxes in large type.

  4. dhex says:

    isn’t the entire notion of a sloven psychopath pretty self-defeating? they’re mean, but too lazy to do anything and the heart disease will kill them before they can carry out their fiendish plots. it also means they have to take the elevator to the top of the clock tower, saving countless lives.

  5. Dolphan says:

    The best example of a frustrating casual game we have is … Puzzle Quest? Surely there are worse? *Strokes giant spider reassuringly*

  6. Alex says:

    Peggle tends to up my total ‘boredness’ by 688%.

  7. The_B says:

    kinda OT, but where oh where is that first image from? is that “shopped”?

    Regular RPS commenter and all round nice bloke dartt created it with Garry’s Mod and Photoshop for RPS a few months ago.

  8. unclebulgaria says:

    A) 132 doth not a statisticlly representative sample of the population make

    B) For how long was the study carried out?

    At least 1k people for at least 3 years, please. Anything less and you’re pissing around with statistics, which admittedly at least makes headlines.

  9. brog says:

    unclebulgaria: 1000 people for 3 years? are you kidding? what universities have that kind of money to throw away on researching video games? of course it doesn’t prove anything, this isn’t mathematics after all. the results are suggestive. nobody has claimed anything more.

  10. Down Rodeo says:

    When I play Peggle I get unbelievably stressed out. Not kidding, some of these challenges I’ve been trying for ~6 months. And every time, I shoot the ten balls (wow that sounds bad), fail and get that bit closer to screaming at/breaking my laptop.

  11. The Fanciest Of Pants says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but the more I play peggle, the worse I get at it. Or so it seems.

    After the first few weeks of enjoying the pretty colors and embarrassingly fulfilling noises, it’s pretty much felt like a fall from grace.

    I still play it once at week at least though.. save me.

  12. Jay says:

    Jochen Scheisse said

    Zuma > Peggle

    GTFO

  13. Wildbluesun says:

    IT IS TRUE.

    I know a whole bunch of people on the Tale of Tales forum who use the Endless Forest as therapy. Including me; it DOES improve my mood when the depression’s getting me down…

    So do Insaniquarium and Portal, for that matter. But those less so.