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Computers and games for mental health and well-being

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Recent years have seen important developments in the computer and game industry, including the emergence of the concept of serious games. It is hypothesized that tools such as games, virtual reality, or applications for smartphones may foster learning, enhance motivation, promote behavioral change, support ...

Recent years have seen important developments in the computer and game industry, including the emergence of the concept of serious games. It is hypothesized that tools such as games, virtual reality, or applications for smartphones may foster learning, enhance motivation, promote behavioral change, support psychotherapy, favor empowerment, and improve some cognitive functions. Computers and games may create supports for training or help people with cognitive, emotional, or behavioral change.

Games take various formats, from board games to informatics to games with interactive rules of play. Similarly, computer tools may vary widely in format, from self-help or assisted computerized training to virtual reality or applications for smartphones. Some tools that may be helpful for mental health were specifically designed for that goal, whereas others were not. Gamification of computer-related products and games with a numeric format tend to reduce the gap between games and computers tools and increase the conceptual synergy in such fields.

Games and computer design share an opportunity for creativity and innovation to help create, specifically design, and assess preventive or therapeutic tools. Computers and games share a design conception that allows innovative approaches to overcome barriers of the real world by creating their own rules. Yet, despite the potential interest in such tools to improve treatment of mental disorders and to help prevent them, the field remains understudied and information is under-disseminated in clinical practice.

Some studies have shown, however, that there is potential interest and acceptability of tools that support various vehicles, rationales, objectives, and formats. These tools include traditional games (e.g., chess games), popular electronic games, board games, computer-based interventions specifically designed for psychotherapy or cognitive training, virtual reality, apps for smartphones, and so forth. Computers and games may offer a true opportunity to develop, assess, and disseminate new prevention and treatment tools for mental health and well-being.

Currently, there is a strong need for state-of-the-art information to answer questions such as the following: Why develop such tools for mental health and well-being? What are the potential additions to traditional treatments? What are the best strategies or formats to improve the possible impact of these tools?

Are such tools useful as a first treatment step? What is the potential of a hybrid model of care that combines traditional approaches with games and/or computers as tools? What games and applications have already been designed and studied? What is the evidence from previous studies? How can such tools be successfully designed for mental health and well-being? What is rewarding or attractive for patients in using such treatments?

What are the worldwide developments in the field? Are some protocols under development? What are the barriers and challenges related to such developments? How can these tools be assessed, and how can the way that they work, and for whom, be measured?

Are the potential benefits of such products specific, or can these additions be attributed to nonspecific factors? What are the users’ views on such tools? What are the possible links between such tools and social networks? Is there a gap between evidence-based results and market development? Are there any quality challenges? What future developments and studies are needed in the field?

This Frontiers in Psychiatry research topic is intended to chart the current insights into computers and games for mental health and well-being. We therefore welcome different types of papers on the topic—including empirical studies, review papers, theoretical contributions, and opinion articles—


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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