Can I Play Some More? Promoting Adolescent Well-being Through Engaging Video Games

Project Lead Category Project status
Marlou Poppelaars Gaming Completed

Commercial video games may offer a cheap and readily available way to help us understand in what way video games can be used to promote adolescent well-being. Excellent targets for this are games that involve social interaction, encourage both positive and negative emotions and are identified by youth themselves as potentially beneficial. By letting youth play several commercial video games in different settings, we can learn how games interact with well-being and motivation in both short and long-term.

Project team


During adolescence there is a sharp increase in mental health issues (e.g. depression). Video games may be used to train skills and knowledge to improve adolescent well-being, as video games engage adolescents and have been shown to train a range of skills. The project aims to examine mechanisms in potentially beneficial commercial video games that are effective in promoting mental health. These mechanisms may then inform the development of video games that specifically aim to promote well-being or target specific mental health issues. Moreover, in this project we look at non-specific factors (e.g. contextualization) that may promote or hinder the effectiveness and/or appeal of mental health games. Finally, insight gained into the screening process used in indicated internalizing psychopathology prevention is integrated into a paper which aims to question and better understand the nature and consequences of selecting youth for depression prevention programs and to stimulate research on more reliable, valid and innovative methods to select youth for indicated prevention.


Of 15-20 year olds had elevated scores on two depression scales


Played more than 1 hour of the intervention game at home


Of suitcases did not survive transporting project game materials

This project has resulted in several publications available below. Currently, the results of the main Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) are in the process of being published. This RCT tested the effectiveness of Journey (Thatgamecompany, 2012) as indicated depression prevention compared to a control game condition Flower (Thatgamecompany, 2009) and a no-treatment control condition (Dutch Trial Register: NL4873; Additionally, potential action mechanisms for depression prevention using video games were examined.

Before the study could begin 4162 youth aged 15 to 20 years old completed a screening questionnaire. Of these screened youth 10.9% showed subclinically elevated scores without suicidal ideation on two depression scales (CDI ≥ 13, CDI < 30, and PHQ-2 ≥ 2; Kovacs, 2001; Kroenke et al., 2003; Richardson et al., 2010). After many phone calls, 244 participants with elevated depressive symptoms (Mage = 17.11, SDage = 1.76, 66.4% female) were given four weeks to play Journey or Flower or no specific game — following a random allocation to the three conditions. While 95.9% of participants in the game conditions played at least an hour of their game, 75% of the suitcases used to transport the game materials to the participants did not survive this ordeal.


Project team

Marlou Poppelaars title=
Marlou Poppelaars

I am a Postdoctoral researcher passionate about internalizing psychopathology prevention and the use of technology and innovation for this purpose while stimulating intrinsic motivation. I love to read, cook and bake everything delicious. Working on finishing my dissertation and Two Dots (Level 3682 and counting).




E-mail Marlou

Isabela Granic title=
Isabela Granic
Director of GEMH Lab

Professor and Chair of the Developmental Psychopathology department in the Behavioural Science Institute; writer; voracious podcast consumer; mother of two upstanding little gamers


Professor at McMaster's University


E-mail Isabela

Anna Lichtwarck-Aschoff title=
Anna Lichtwarck-Aschoff

Assistant Professor at the Developmental Psychopathology Department, mainly interested in general processes and principles of clinical change; mother of two wild boys.


Assistant Professor


E-mail Anna

Adam Lobel title=
Adam Lobel

User Research Analyst at Ubisoft Montréal. My favorite games tell emotionally rich stories and challenge me to think differently


User Research Analyst


E-mail Adam


All sources

Poppelaars, M., Tak, Y. R., Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A., Engels, R. C. M. E., Lobel, A., Merry, S. N., Lucassen, M. F. G., & Granic, I. (2014). In Schouten, B., Fedtke, S., Schijven, M., Vosmeer, M. & Gekker, A. (Eds.), Games for Health 2014 (pp. 125-135). Germany: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.

Granic, I., Lobel, A., Poppelaars, M., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2015). Kind en Adolescent, 36 (1), 1-22.

Poppelaars, M., Tak, Y. R., Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A., Engels, R. C. M. E., Lobel, A., Merry, S. N., Lucassen, M. F. G., & Granic, I. (2016). Behaviour Research and Therapy, 80, 33-42.

Poppelaars, M., Wols, A., Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A., & Granic, I. (2018). Frontiers in Psychology.

Poppelaars, M., Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A., Kleinjan, M., & Granic, I. (2018). The impact of explicit mental health messages in video games on players’ motivation and affect. Computers in Human Behavior, 83, 16-23.

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