Sparx (video game)
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|SPARX Video Game|
|Platform(s)||Computer and mobile|
|Release||June 25, 2013|
SPARX (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts) is a free online computer program for New Zealand residents only, intended to help young persons with mild to moderate depression, stress or anxiety. Through the game, this e-therapy will teach them how to resolve their issues on their own, according to a talking psychotherapeutic approach called cognitive behavioural therapy. Before taking part in this game, a personality test is required to determine if SPARX will be suited and helpful for the future user.
Based in a 3D fantasy world, the game leads players through seven realms (each lasting between 30 and 40 minutes). In the beginning of SPARX, the user meets the Guide who explains what SPARX is and how it could help. Then the user customizes an avatar and starts to journey within the seven provinces in order to complete different quests. In the first level, gamers challenge GNATS (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts). These GNATS fly towards the avatar and say negative things like, for example: "you're a loser". Further in the game, the user meets different characters, solves puzzles and completes mini games. As soon as a quest is completed, the Guide explains how to use new skills in order to feel better, solve problems and enjoy real life. Players complete one or two levels in the game each week, during three to seven weeks.
Background and history
Up to a quarter of young people will have experienced a depressive disorder by the age of 19. This is a major cause of disability. Youth depression can affect every aspect of a teen's life and lead to the use of drugs, an abuse of alcohol and, in certain extreme cases, to suicide. Sparx is designed to help adolescents reduce their depression symptoms. Between 2009 and 2010, the Sparx team conducted an evaluation (a randomised controlled trial) of SPARX with 187 young people in order to see if it was effective in treating the symptoms of depression. They compared SPARX to standard care provided to young people with mild to moderate depression (e.g. a face-to-face therapy with a counsellor or a clinical psychologist). 170 adolescents were assessed after intervention and 168 were assessed at the three-month follow-up point. Per protocol analyses showed that SPARX was not inferior to the most commonly used treatment.
Evidence of effectiveness
In 2012, a group of researchers led by Dr Theresa Fleming, who is working in the department of Child and Youth Health and Psychological Medicine, decided to test the game. They recruited 187 teens with mild to moderate depression and assigned them to one of two groups: the first group played the video game and the other group received typical treatment from trained counselors at schools and youth clinics. More than 60 percent of the participants were girls with an average age of 16. In both groups, levels of anxiety and depression were reduced by about one-third of them. The video game, however, helped more kids between 12 and 19 years old to recover from their depression. About 43.7 percent achieved remission in the SPARX group, compared to the 26.4 percent in usual care.
Behind the SPARX project is a team of researchers and clinicians from The University of Auckland. Pr Sally Merry, Dr Karolina Stasiak, Dr Theresa Fleming, Dr Matt Shepherd and Dr Mathijs Lucassen created it. Associate Professor Sally Merry is a child and adolescent Psychiatrist, Head of Department of Psychological Medicine and Director of The Werry Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Dr Stasiak also coordinated the main study of SPARX. Drs Fleming, Shepherd and Lucassen carried out doctoral studies of SPARX.
In 2011, SPARX won the World Summit Award, supervised by the United Nations, in the category of e-Health and Environment which honors excellence in multimedia and e-Content creation. SPARX was also rewarded by the 2013 International Digital Award from Netexplo, hosted by UNESCO, for being the first out of ten most innovative and promising digital initiative of the year.
After a such success, in 2012 Dr Lucassen decided to develop another version of SPARX entitled Rainbow SPARX to help adolescents attracted to the same sex, or both sexes, or unsure of their sexuality. According to a small study carried out by Mathijs Lucassen, himself, more than 80% of the participants said that the game helped them to deal with their sexuality and would recommend it to other people.
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- Merry, Sally; Karolina Stasiak; Matthew Shepherd; Chris Frampton; Theresa Fleming; Mathijs F G Lucassen (9 March 2012). "The effectiveness of SPARX, a computerised self help intervention for adolescents seeking help for depression: randomised controlled non-inferiority trial". British Medical Journal. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
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- Stasiak, Karolina. "Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences". Youth E-Therapy Project. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
- Shepherd, Matt. "Staff and Doctoral Candidates". Retrieved 25 November 2013.
- Lucassen, Mathijs. "Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences". Retrieved 25 November 2013.
- Merry, Sally. "The Werry Centre of Child". Retrieved 25 November 2013.
- "World Summit Award". Retrieved 25 November 2013.
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