sparx: a game that combats depression – #blog4mh

This post is a continuation of Gaming: The underused depression rehabilitation resourcewhere I talked about games with hidden therapeutic value, namely Stardew Valley and Pokémon Go.

If you have not read the first post (or you’re too lazy to read), you can find a summary of the two posts together here. If you’d like to read the whole paper which includes the full content of both posts  (~700 words) and proper references, you can click here.

Metia Interactive developed computer game SPARX – a self-help intervention based on cognitive behavioural therapy – which won the United Nations World Summit Award 2011 and, after launching in 2013, the UNESCO Net Explo Award 2013. Before the launch, a study involving 187 adolescents found that SPARX reduced the levels of anxiety and depression of players by one-third.
The game has quests that introduce adolescents to a variety of skills that can be employed to better cope with depression and anxiety. For example, a quest requires the player to defeat gnats (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts). Gnats, which look like black orbs, fly towards the player and say negative things. In order to defeat them, the player has to shoot the gnat and sort them according to types of negative thoughts. After this is done, the gnat turns into SPARX (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts) – glowing white orbs that encourage and compliment the player. However, this game is currently only available in New Zealand.

In Singapore, 84.3% of people with mental illness do not seek treatment. They are also less likely to seek treatment when the age of onset is early. With the age of onset for mental illness often peaking around ages 15-25, it is likely that there is an alarming number of youths with untreated mental illness. Youths, especially the ones who are still schooling, may not have the means to acquire necessary resources to seek professional help. Should a game like SPARX, however, make itself available in Singapore, there would be an easily accessible mental health resource. Individuals who do not have mental illness can also benefit from this resource. SPARX teaches skills that are meant to be applied in real life, and learning them could act as a preventive measure against depression by increasing mental resilience. This would be exceptionally important for students who experience bullying in school, which strongly correlates with anxiety and depression.

The gaming world holds a plethora of potential resources. Many youths enjoy videogames, and may hence be more willing to play a game that integrates treatment into gameplay, rather than going for therapy. This, together with the accessibility of an online resource, could close the treatment gap, increasing the chances of early intervention and prevention.


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