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Virtual roleplaying game helps teenagers deal with depression

Gaming

SPARX is a 3D fantasy game that teaches young people with mental health issues the skills they need to boost their confidence.

While the gamification of real-world tasks can help liven up dull tasks, it can also provide health benefits – as recently proven by Cambridge Consultants’ T-Haler, which monitors the user’s inhaler technique and offers pointers for improvement. Now we’ve found another example in the form of SPARX, a 3D fantasy game that aims to boost the confidence of adolescents suffering from depression. Developed by the University of Auckland, players can choose an avatar which they must guide through seven ‘provinces’ related to problems they may come across while experiencing mental health issues. For instance, the Volcano Province contains tasks which can help teens deal with disruptive emotions, while on another level users have to fight GNATS (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts). Each level takes around 30 minutes to complete and it is recommended that players attempt one or two provinces each week. SPARX, which stands for Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts, has already been tested among 187 young people with varying symptoms of depression, with the results appearing in the British Medical Journal. According to PsychCentral, one group was given typical treatment while the other played the game. Both groups experienced an average reduced anxiety of around one-third and remission rates were actually higher in the group given the game. Gameplay from SPARX is demonstrated in the video below: Depression can be a difficult subject to broach, especially when it comes to teenagers, but the developers have found a way to integrate therapy into a form already popular with the younger demographic. Medical professionals: could this programme form part of your treatment? Spotted by: Judy McRae

Email: s.merry@auckland.ac.nz

Website: www.sparx.org.nz

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