Videogame that helps teens beat depression

By Anne Collier

Clearly Jane McGonigal isn’t the only videogame designer creating games that help people beat physical and mental health problems (see this). Researchers in New Zealand have created a videogame called “SPARX” (for “smart, positive, active, realistic and x-factor thoughts”) to help teens overcome depression “in a fun and appealing way,” Time reports. It’s a fantasy game in which “players create an avatar who restores balance in a virtual world by destroying ‘gloomy negative automatic thoughts,’ or GNATs.” Time adds that, when people dealing with depression “stop buying into ideas like ‘Everyone hates me’ or ‘I’m a loser’ and can recognize that these ‘GNATs’ are not statements of fact … but simply thoughts twisted by depression, it can stop the cycle of rumination that sustains the disease.” So players are killing these negative thoughts in the game. The upshot? About 44% of the teens (average age 15) “recovered completely from depression, compared with 26% of those in regular treatment, a significant difference” (please se the article for more).

But depression is not alone, as far as videogame help goes. McGonigal recently created a game called “SuperBetter” to help herself heal from a longer-than-expected struggle with concussion. In her book Reality is Broken (which I highly recommend to parents and educators), she cited a recent report from the World Health Organization citing depression as “the single-most serious chronic threat to global health” and in a 5+ minute talk about SuperBetter, she said that people around the world are now using the game to deal with asthma, diabetes, cancer treatment, social anxiety, and other health challenges. She says, “pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. I believe that game developers are on a humanitarian mission to teach us how not to suffer, how to provoke our own positive emotions and become more resilient – how to become the best versions of ourselves.”

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