Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Video Games as Therapy?

Recently Slashdot ran an short article on a game by the name of Sparx that was tested against cognitive therapy in the treatment of depression of teenagers. Developed by experts in adolescent depression from the University of Auckand in conjunction with Metia Interactive the player performs tasks that are meant to teach the player skills for combating depression.

The game takes place across seven different levels (learning skills in the first six and the seventh being a review of the first six). A breakdown of the levels from an article on it in BJM:
Description of content and core skills covered in each module (level) of SPARX

Level 1—cave province: finding hope
Psychoeducation about depression and an introduction to the cognitive behavioural therapy model
Introducing GNATs (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts)
Introducing “hope” (people recover from depression)
Relaxation: controlled breathing

Level 2—ice province: being active
Activity scheduling and behavioural activation
Relaxation: progressive muscle relaxation
Basic communication and interpersonal skills

Level 3—volcano province: dealing with emotions
Dealing with strong emotions: anger and hurt feelings
Interpersonal skills: assertiveness, listening, and negotiation

Level 4—mountain province: overcoming problems
Problem solving using STEPS: Say the problem, Think of solutions, Examine the pros and cons, Pick one and try it, See what happens
Cognitive restructuring-identifying SPARX: Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts

Level 5—swamp province: recognising unhelpful thoughts
Cognitive restructuring—recognising different types of GNATs

Level 6—bridgeland province: challenging unhelpful thoughts
Cognitive restructuring—learning to challenge or “swap” negative thoughts for helpful ones
Interpersonal skills continued: negotiation skills

Level 7—canyon province: bringing it altogether
Recap of all skills
Mindfulness: tolerating distress
Relapse prevention: knowing when to ask for help

It would seem that at the end of the three month trial the effectiveness of Sparx in the treatment of depression is at least comparable to that of the cognitive therapy.

I wonder. It's very evident that video games have become a very large part of human culture over the last few decades. Given how deeply ingrained they are (especially to younger people) is it possible that this may be a way to treat depressed teens that may not respond to other forms of treatment?

If anything it would seem to me that at least the folks that regularly go on about how video games make kids do this and do that would see this as a way to influence them in a positive manner. Surely if if a video game can cause a teen to go on a shooting rampage then it's possible that a video game can cause a kid to learn how to overcome depression.

Below is a trailer of the game and a few more links on the research.

News 24

SPARX Video Game Helps Teens Battle Depression