Depression is a serious condition that affects millions of people, but new research has found an interesting way that depression might be treated with a non-traditional method; video games. In a recent study conducted by the University of Auckland in New Zealand, a PC video game created to treat depression and anxiety in young adults has proven to be surprisingly effective when compared to traditional counseling. While many factors must be considered when dealing with depression, it is interesting to see the role that technology, including video games, can play in possible treatments.

The game developed for this study is called SPARX, a 3D fantasy-based action games that guides players through seven different worlds where they must save the land from evil forces, orbs which represent negative thoughts common to young people who suffer from depression. They are faced with challenges that represent life situations that they come across, with their effective handling of the situations being personified by their actions in the game. The use of a video game was chosen to appeal to the participants, all teenagers, and engage them in a familiar medium.

The game’s design is reminiscent of popular role-playing games like World of Warcraft, with a gameplay style that involves point-and-click action and dialogue options that teach the player how to best respond. This is achieved without making SPARX a violent or confrontational experience, rather they are given visual representations of negative or unhelpful thoughts that the overcome in the game. After the game is completed, the participants are giving ideas on how to apply some of the lessons from the game into scenarios they face in real life. The official trailer below showcases some of the gameplay elements in  SPARX.


According to the study, published recently in BMJ, involved 187 participants between the ages of 12 and 19. Half of this group was given SPARX for the study, while the rest were assigned to traditional face-to-face counseling. The post-study results showed that SPARX could be deemed “not inferior” to traditional counseling, and in some cases proved to be better in treating depression and anxiety in some of the subjects. Interesting to note, the rate of remission in the subjects who played SPARX was “significantly higher” than those who went the more traditional route with counseling. While hailing video games as a treatment is premature, the potential is definitely there. Technology benefiting psychology is an intriguing prospect that will hopefully be explored in further tests.

via [The Atlantic]