In a previous blog post, I explored some possibilities for how video games can be designed to offer real-life benefits. Here's one in the news: a MindHabits Trainer game that boosts confidence and trains the player in good emotional habits. By finding the smiling face in a crowd of frowns, the player learns to focus on the positive. The CNET News article "Online game smiles seen vanquishing the blues" has the story on this game and the study that shows its psychological benefits.
I notice some pronounced differences between today's good-habit games such as BrainAge (also mentioned in the article), and habit-forming games such as Halo 3. Obviously, the former serve a purpose that's beneficial to real life, and the latter are just for fun. But there are differences in how long people play, too. Addictive online games keep players coming back regularly, in blocks of hours at a time. The good-habit games are also designed to play regularly, because habits are built on regularity. (BrainAge even graphs the player's performance from one day to the next.) But they only keep you on for about ten minutes at a time. These good-habit games, though made to be fun, are designed to bring you the benefit and then send you on your way.