The Wall Street Journal reported Friday college student Hannah Armbruster sampled the game "That Dragon, Cancer," in which the player is put in the role of a father whose son, 4, is dying of cancer.
She was left more drained than a round of "Call of Duty," the newspaper said.
"Whoo," she said as she removed her headphones. Why would anyone want to put themselves through this? "For the same reason you'd want to read a novel about something really heavy," she said.
Four decades after the video game Pong, game developers are moving from adrenalin-laced Hollywood-style action games to more personal stories, called "empathy games," giving players opportunities to act to influence their outcomes, the newspaper said.
"Depression Quest" concerns depression, "Papers, Please" involves immigration issues, "Mainichi" considers racial and transgender issues and "I Get This Call every Day" puts players in the role of a call center operator.
"You now have at least two generations of people who have grown up with games and feel so strongly about them it is part of their DNA to want to express themselves in that form," said Tracy Fullerton, a professor in the University of Southern California's Interactive media and Games program.
Zoe Quinn, developer of "Depression Quest," said the new games can have a therapeutic effect. She said she has heard from depressed players who have been inspired by the game to return to therapy or renew taking their medicine again.