Video Games and Virtual Reality as an Expressive Relaxation Therapy: An EEG Study

Presenter: Joshua Beitle

Research Category: Computer and Information Sciences
College: College of Arts Media & Design
Major(s): Game Science and Design
Graduation Date: 2021

Video games provide many different experiences to players, including relaxation, entertainment, and thrill. Virtual reality games have enhanced player experiences thanks to immersive applications, such as VR cinema, virtual browsing, and virtual spaces that can be used as an extension of the physical area. Among those applications, VR shows promise for relaxing and therapeutic applications. However, most of these applications position users in a passive interactive environment. This project explores if relaxation and mindfulness in virtual reality can be achieved through active player engagement where users directly control their character and provide input. Two versions of a relaxing video game were made, a control version implemented on PC and a test version implemented in VR using an Oculus Quest headset. Using an electroencephalography (EEG) Emotiv Insight headset to record participantsÕ topographic brainwave functions while playing, a significant difference was found for the theta, alpha, and beta spectral power bands. In conjunction was qualitative survey data where participants self-reported their subjective levels of relaxation after each version, the VR condition was identified as eliciting higher levels of theta and alpha waves while eliciting lower amounts of beta waves. Players were achieving stronger relaxation responses through actively engaging with the VR condition when compared to the PC version. This result contributes evidence supporting video games as a therapeutic resource to relax through active player engagement.