Computer game aims to zap teen depression

  • SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher

    SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher

    SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher

    As the 156th body was pulled from waters where the South Korean ferry sank a week ago, relatives of the missing are pressing the government to finish the task of recovery soon. But the work is becoming more complicated. (April 23) …

  • Bashtag: NYPD Twitter Campaign Backfires

    Bashtag: NYPD Twitter Campaign Backfires

    Bashtag: NYPD Twitter Campaign Backfires

    The New York Police Department, the nation's largest police force, learned the hard way that there are legions online devoted to short-circuiting even the best-intentioned public relations campaign. (April 23) …

  • May 2014 Business Issue: Trust Me

    May 2014 Business Issue: Trust Me

    May 2014 Business Issue: Trust Me

    From Airbnb to Lyft, the sharing economy is rewiring the way we interact with each other. In the May issue, Executive Editor Jason Tanz delves into the phenomenon of entrusting strangers with our most valuable possessions, personal experiences - and our very lives. Also this month: an inside look at the algorithms and formulas that Twitter and Facebook use to build the perfect feed, the story of a Silicon Valley startup struggling to survive, and the oral history of Mystery Science Theater 3000. …

Long viewed as a contributing factor in teenage isolation, computer games are now being used to treat adolescent depression in an innovative New Zealand programme.

Rather than simply encouraging players to engage in mindless destruction, the SPARX video game attempts to teach teenagers how to deal with depression using a psychological approach known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Just as importantly, its creators set out to make the game exciting for those teenagers who are often reluctant to seek counselling and bored by well-meaning advice on how to cope with depression.

The result is a role-playing fantasy game, where teenagers adopt a warrior avatar and get to blast negative thoughts with fireballs while trying to save the world from sinking into a mire of pessimism and despair.

Project leader Sally Merry, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Auckland University, said the unconventional approach had proved popular with teenagers, allowing them to address their issues in privacy and at their own pace.

"You can deal with mental health problems in a way that doesn't have to be deadly serious," she said. "The therapy doesn't have to be depressing in and of itself. We're aiming to make it fun."

International studies consistently show New Zealand has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the developed world and Merry said she was keen to make treatment for depression more accessible.

"The problem of depression in young people is an international one, it's common and mostly untreated," she said.

Merry said 75-80 percent of adolescents who suffered depression received no help at all, leading to potential problems such as poor school grades, social isolation and a negative outlook.

"Often young people can be feeling low and not really realise what it is," she said.

"They just know that they're feeling 'blah' and accept that as something they have to put up with. SPARX and cognitive behavioural therapy show them we don't have to accept that."

The game has seven levels, each lasting 35-40 minutes -- the same as a counselling session -- and is aimed at 13- to 17-year-olds, the age range when adolescent depression generally kicks in.

It introduces players to a guide, or mentor, who helps them through the levels, each of which has a lesson embedded in it teaching skills such as anger management, conflict resolution and breathing relaxation exercises.

As the game progresses, the online world depicted in it becomes brighter and less forbidding.

Metia Interactive managing director Maru Nihoniho said the challenge was making the game compelling for teenagers, so they could play it without actually realising they were learning anything.

"We had to look at the learning objectives and still design it to be a game," she said.

"That meant keeping the entertainment value, such as interactive 3D environments, puzzles and quests that you'd find in commercial games."

To do that, they relied on feedback from test groups of teenagers over a 14-month development period, including elements that adolescents wanted while tempering their requests for blood-and-gore and shoot-em-ups.

"We knew we couldn't have shooting because of the nature of the game," she said.

"So instead of having your character going around shooting or killing with machine guns or bombs, we gave the avatar a staff so they could shoot lighting bolts to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. It was about compromise."

A clinical trial, the results of which were published in the British Medical Journal earlier this year, found the game was as effective as traditional face-to-face counselling in helping adolescents cope with mild to moderate depression.

Merry said the game, which won an innovation prize at the UN's World Summit Awards, had generated interest in the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia, as well as non-English speaking countries looking to translate it.

Its release details are still being finalised but Merry said she would like to make it available through schools, doctors and youth centres as an easily accessible resource for teenagers struggling with depression.

Other options include releasing it on the Internet so it can be played on iPad and Android tablets, as well as developing specialised versions, such as "Rainbow SPARX" for gay youths.

The clinical trial found SPARX helped reduce mild to moderate depression as effectively as traditional counselling, meaning it could potentially be used as an alternative to face-to-face therapy, particularly in rural areas or settings where mental health services are not available.

Merry said that even for those youths whom SPARX may not be suitable for, such as those with severe depression or mental illness, the game could make them feel that going to seek help was less daunting.

"It's not going to fix everyone," she said. "But for those it doesn't help, some may be more receptive and interested in getting counselling."

"I'm very aware that, as a psychiatrist, when young people come to see me they sometimes enjoy chatting and so on, but it's not necessarily what they want to do most with their time.

"I'm trying to find a way of doing things that is much more engaging."

Follow @YahooMalaysia on LINE for daily entertainment updates.

Loading...
  • "Wireless key finder", penyelamat anda
    Azwa Iela - Tupai
    "Wireless key finder", penyelamat anda 16 hours ago
    "Wireless key finder", penyelamat anda

    Adakah anda merupakan seorang yang pelupa dan selalu kehilangan kunci akibat terlupa di mana anda meletakknya? …

  • Gaya Muslimah berjiwa moden
    Azwa Iela - Tupai
    Gaya Muslimah berjiwa moden Tue, Apr 22, 2014 5:31 PM MYT
    Gaya Muslimah berjiwa moden

    Wanita yang berlitup kini tampil dengan pelbagai fesyen terkini dan gaya yang lebih moden disamping mengekalkan ciri-ciri Muslimah. …

  • Tampil bergaya & santai dengan topi!
    Azwa Iela - Tupai
    Tampil bergaya & santai dengan topi! Tue, Apr 22, 2014 11:33 AM MYT
    Tampil bergaya & santai dengan topi!

    Gabungan pakaian musim panas yang menarik dan pemilihan topi yang sesuai, dapat menyerlahkan seri imej seseorang. …

  • Doctor convicted in Michael Jackson death denied latest appeal
    Doctor convicted in Michael Jackson death denied latest appeal

    The California Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to hear an appeal by Michael Jackson's personal physician, Conrad Murray, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the pop star's death. Murray was released from a Los Angeles jail in October after serving two years but wants to clear his name. The cardiologist's attorney, Valerie Wass, said Murray will likely attempt to overturn his conviction in federal court. …

  • Five tips to protect your eyes
    Yahoo Newsroom
    Five tips to protect your eyes Mon, Apr 21, 2014 12:50 PM MYT
    Five tips to protect your eyes

    Just like every other part of your body, your eyes need to be protected too. …

Comments on Yahoo pages are subject to our link to Comments Guidelines. You are responsible for any content that you post. Yahoo is not responsible or liable in any way for comments posted by its users. Yahoo does not in any way endorse or support comments made by its users.