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Plugged In

Study: Video game helps teens beat depression

Plugged In

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SPARX

Video games get plenty of negative press, but it turns out they can do some real good as well.

Researchers in New Zealand have created a fantasy game that helps teens conquer depression. And not only does it work, it can be even more effective than traditional treatments.

The game's called SPARX (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic and X-factor thoughts) -- not exactly a title that would turn heads at GameStop, but it's not about the name. Players attempt to kill creatures that represent negative thoughts. A study of 168 teens (two-thirds of which were girls) found that 44 percent who played the game completely recovered from their depression, while two-thirds showed at least a 30 percent reduction in symptoms.

Of the patients who only sought traditional counseling and treatment, only 26 percent showed a complete recovery.

The game is made up of seven levels. The first, called "The Cave Province," teaches about depression and lets players/patients know that recovery is possible. Next, in "The Ice Province," players are encouraged to be active and taught to relax.

That's followed by "The Volcano Province," which (as you might guess) offers lessons on dealing with intense emotions like anger. Each of the following provinces - Mountain, Swamp and Bridgeland — are tailored toward specific issues and teach the player to recognize and not obsess over unhelpful thoughts.

Not only was the game effective, it apparently was pretty fun.

"Most participants found SPARX useful, believed it would appeal to other teenagers, and would recommend it to their friends," researchers said. "Some evidence suggested that participants who completed at least four modules did significantly better than those who received treatment as usual. The response and remission rates for participants in the SPARX group … compare favorably with other effective monotherapies, including antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy, whereas rates for treatment as usual were a little lower, possibly because some young people were on a waiting list."

Additionally, it's reportedly cheaper than traditional therapy and much easier to convince kids to try.

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