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Computer game could help in treatment of depression - study

Researchers in New Zealand have developed a computer game which they say is effective at treating mild and moderate depression in teenagers.

Image: RebeccaPollard via Creative Commons/Flickr

A GROUP OF doctors in New Zealand have claimed a video game which they have developed may help in the treatment of depression.

Researchers at the University of Auckland tested the 3D fantasy game SPARX on a group of 94 adolescents aged, on average, 15-and-a-half years old.

SPARX challenges the player to undergo a series of tasks on several levels, aiming to ultimately restore the balance of a virtual world that has been overrun by GNATS (gloomy negative automatic thoughts).

The game, which is designed to be played over a 4 – 7 week period, was used in a randomised control trials at 24 different primary health care clinics across the country. The adolescents taking part in the trials were all seeking treatment for mild and moderate depression.

During the trial, one group of teenagers received only face-to-face counselling treatment, while another group played SPARX.

According to the study’s conclusions, published in the British Medical Journal, the video game treatment proved just as effective as traditional methods at reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some 44 per cent of the adolescents who completed the game were said to have recovered completely, compared to 26 per cent of those taking part in face-to-face treatments.

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In assessing the game, 95 per cent of test subjects believed that it would appeal to their peers and 81 per cent said they would recommend it. A similar reaction to traditional treatments of depression was noted.

The authors of SPARX did not suggest the game should completely replace traditional treatments for depression.

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