Gamification is and has been a hot topic in the IT sector for a while. We know now that game elements, if properly harnessed, can be impressive teaching tools for skills of any kind. A bit of a new hook is using those tools to teach coping skills.
 
In my feature on games training, it was posited that emergency scenarios can be safely navigated to build confidence for IT staff in a video game world. The only trick is finding the tools to build it.
 
Researchers at the University of Auckland, New Zealand have used that type of rationale to build SPARX. It's a 3D fantasy world in which the player must create order out of chaos. The hook, however is that CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) skills for coping with the games' big bad – GNATS, or gloomy negative automatic thoughts – are peppered into the gameplay to help adolescents better identify their own triggers.
 
The results of the research conducted using SPARX vs. traditional talking therapy are actually kind of astounding. Kids who navigated at least four of the seven worlds of the game had a 44 per cent success rate treating their symptoms and “recovering”. Obviously, a game won't fully replace meds or a good support structure, but that's still a good 18 per cent better than just traditional therapy (which has a 26 per cent success rate).
 
The goals of the project are simple. Utilizing games as a therapy tool has two distinct benefits; it's cheaper and easier to distribute than face-to-face care and it might be a better tool to promote looking inwards than forcing an already awkward and anxious teen into talking to a complete stranger. That, and games are a medium that most kids already understand.
 
It's really interesting to see these kinds of applications gain a foothold. Not only can video games be excellent training tools, and help sick kids feel better, but they can be experimented with as alternative therapies and cures.
 
It seems that the relatively new medium will have a whole different meaning to everyone born after 1980.
 
JD
 
Original article: Computer game effective in treating adolescent depression (CBC Technology & Science)
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