Teen Depression’s Latest Foe: Video Game ‘SPARX’

Depression in teens has a new foe in the form of a video game called “SPARX.” The game, whose name stands for Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts, was developed in New Zealand by a team of researchers looking for ways to teach kids to fight depression.

Sally Mary, M.D., a researcher at the University of Auckland, has been working, along with several colleagues, to develop the game, which teaches kids congnitive behavioral skills, said of the clinical trials that:

“The results are more impressive when it is considered that SPARX was entirely a self-help resource…the only contact with a clinician was at recruitment, and the only input from health professionals during the course of treatment was a brief phone call after a month.”

In order to test the game’s effectiveness in treating teen depression, researchers randomly selected 187 teens from age 12 to 19 to participate in the study. They split the teens into two groups. One group received normal in-person counseling for their depression, and the other played SPARX.

The video game is set up as an interactive 3D fantasy game. Players choose an avatar, then navigate 7 different realms, each of them teaching something useful for battling depression, such as learning problem-solving skills, and fighting their way through a swamp where the GNATS (small balls of light) try to stop them with negative thoughts.

In order to make it through this level, players must shoot the GNATS, which say things like, “you’re a loser,” and place them in a barrel that describes that particular negative thought. If the gamer chooses the correct barrel, the GNATS turn into SPARX, and compliment the player.

Each player spends about 20 to 40 minutes playing each module, which are delivered over the course of 4 to 7 weeks. During this time, cognitive behavioral therapy is delivered in the form of a guide who, according to MedPage Today, ” puts the game into context, provides education, gauges mood, and sets and monitors real-life challenges.”

Although it is expected to go through more tests, SPARX seems to be a formidable opponent in the fight against teen depression, for those who may not be able to receive formal treatment.

Check out the SPARX trailer below: