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Background: The smartphone market is saturated with apps and games purporting to promote mental wellness. There has been a significant number of studies assessing the impact of these digital interventions. Motivation: The majority of review papers solely focussed on the impact of strict rules and award systems of the apps. There is comparatively little attention paid to other game techniques designed to encourage creativity, a lusory attitude, and playful experiences. Results: This gap is addressed in this paper in a consideration and analysis of a purposive selection of six mobile games marketed for wellbeing, our focus is on both external and internal motivations that these games offer. Our specific interest is how these games balance rule-based play with creativity. We find that ludic play is a highly-structured, rule-bound, goal-oriented play, in contrast to paedic play which a freeform, imaginative, and expressive. We argue that while ludic play is purposed towards the promotion of habit formation and generates feelings of accomplishment, it nonetheless relies heavily on extrinsic motivation to incentivise engagement. By contrast, paidic play, specifically role-playing, improvisation, and the imaginative co-creation of fictional game worlds, can be used effectively in these games to facilitate self-regulation, self-distancing, and therefore provides intrinsically-motivated engagement. In the context of games for mental wellbeing, ludic play challenges players to complete therapeutic exercises, while paidic play offers a welcoming refuge from real world pressures and the opportunity to try on alternate selves. Conclusion: Our intention is not to value paidic play over ludic play, but to consider how these two play modalities can complement and counterbalance each other to generate more effective engagement.

Original publication




Journal article


Simulation and Gaming

Publication Date





508 - 533