Digital Games vs Mindfulness Apps: Which is More Effective for Post-Work Recovery? (Preprint)

Emily Collins, Anna Cox, C Wilcock, G Sethu-Jones
in Working/Discussion Paper


Post-work recovery is essential for the dissipation of work stress, and consequently wellbeing. Evidence suggests that activities that are immersive, active and engaging are especially effective at promoting recovery. Previous research has suggested that playing digital games might be effective in promoting recovery, but little is known about how they compare to other popular mobile activities, such as mindfulness apps, which are specifically designed to support wellbeing.

                    This research aimed to investigate and compare the effectiveness of a digital game and a mindfulness app in promoting post-work recovery, first in a lab setting and then in a field study.

                    Study 1 was a lab experiment (n=45) in which participants' need for recovery was induced by a work task, before undertaking one of three break tasks: a digital game (Block! Hexa Puzzle), a mindfulness app (Headspace) or a non-media control with a fidget spinner (a physical toy). Recovery in the form of how energised participants felt (energetic arousal) was compared before and after the break task, and how recovered participants felt (recovery experience) was compared across the conditions. Study 2 was a field study with working professionals (n=20), for which participants either played the digital game or used the mindfulness app once arriving home from work over a period of five working days. Measures of energetic and tense arousal were taken before and after the task, and recovery experience was measured after the task, along with measures of enjoyment and job strain.

                    A 3x2 mixed ANOVA identified that the digital game condition increased energetic arousal (indicative of improved recovery) whereas the other two conditions decreased energetic arousal (F2,42=3.76, p<.05). However, there were no differences between the conditions in Recovery Experience (F2,42=.01, p=.99).

In Study 2, a multi-level model comparison approach identified that neither intervention nor day of the week had a significant impact on how energised participants felt. However, for those in the digital game condition, daily recovery experience increased during the course of the study, whereas for those in the mindfulness condition it decreased (F1,20=2.1489, p<0.01). Follow up interviews with participants identified three core themes: Detachment and Restoration, Fluctuations and Differences, and finally, Routine and Scheduling. These suggested that the activities differed in how much they allowed individuals to detach from work, but there were also differences across days and participants, and in some ways, the benefit of the activities came from simply having an enforced routine.

                    This work suggests that digital games may be effective in promoting post-work recovery in lab contexts, even without a high need for recovery (Study 1) and in the real world, although the effect in this case may be accumulative rather than instant (Study 2).