A computer game designed to lift teenagers out of depression is
as effective as one-on-one counselling, New Zealand doctors
reported on Thursday in the British Medical Journal.
Researchers at the University of Auckland tested an
interactive 3-D fantasy game called SPARX on a 94 youngsters
diagnosed with depression whose average age was 15 and a half.
SPARX invites a user to take on a series of seven challenges
over four to seven weeks in which an avatar has to learn
to deal with anger and hurt feelings and swap negative thoughts
for helpful ones.
Used for three months, SPARX was at least as effective as
face-to-face conventional counselling, according to several
depression rating scales. In addition, 44% of the SPARX group
who carried out at least four of the seven challenges recovered
completely. In the conventional treatment group, only 26%
“Use of the programme resulted in a clinically significant
reduction in depression, anxiety and hopelessness, and an
improvement in quality of life,” according to the study led by
Sally Merry, an associate professor at the Department of
The adolescents also gave a high rating to SPARX, saying
they liked being able to use it at home and to learn at their
Eighty percent said they would recommend the computer
therapy to others, although the treatment-as-usual group had
similarly high approval ratings.