Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts PWND
April 20, 2012 6:02 PM   Subscribe

"SPARX is an effective resource for adolescents with depressive symptoms. It is at least as good as treatment as usual, would be cheaper and easier to disseminate, and could be used to increase access to therapy. It could provide access to treatment for young people who may be reluctant to have more conventional therapy."

It's a video game that teaches cognitive behavior theraputic techniques.
posted by MrVisible (17 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
All your stinkin' thinkin' are belong to us.
posted by punkfloyd at 6:15 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hah! I've been kicking around an idea of something like this (probably as a roguelike for simplicity's sake) but never got it off the ground. I think it's a great idea and has a lot of potential and I'm glad someone's taking a crack at it.
posted by curious nu at 6:17 PM on April 20, 2012

I've been having a great deal of success using CBT to deal with major depression and social anxiety, with the aid of my psychiatrist. To have a video game as a tool to make it easier to learn and internalize the CBT method sounds like a fantastic complement to medication and psychotherapy. I look forward to trying the game when it is released.
posted by Harpocrates at 6:27 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

What a cool idea! Looking forward to trying it.
posted by tickingclock at 7:19 PM on April 20, 2012

Related - Compassion Pit is a place where you could talk about your problems anonymously, or listen to other people.
posted by egor83 at 7:45 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Computerized interventions intrigue me. There's a lot of promising data that they can be sort-of effiacious, but I'm reflexively pretty cautious about anything that seems too good to be true, or that is trendy-so-thus-likely-to-have-an-upward-publication-bias. That said: an interesting study. Unsolicited thoughts:

1. It really stands out to me that the children were not rigorously diagnosed as being depressed (e.g., by DSM-IV or ICD criteria), and furthermore they excluded for some more severe symptomatology (notably suicidality). This isn't a bad thing at all--clearly they had some depressive symptomatology even if some may very well not have made more strict diagnostic criteria--but it necessarily restricts the applicability of the findings, and I'm afraid of people overgeneralizing. It isn't "depressed kids" who could be helped like this... as per the data, it's subsyndromally-to-mildly (or maybe moderate? I am not familiar with child depression scale norms) depressed kids who might be helped. Which could be a lot of kids!

2. The "treatment as usual" condition was really weak. The average kid saw a counselor about four times (meaning about half saw a counselor even fewer times), possibly for less than 45 minutes each (though well-trained brief interventions can have a significant impact for some patients). There're also a few lines in the description that make me confused as to whether the gaming-kids are still seeing their referring physician while playing the program, which could be additional encouraging clinical attention? That being said, a computer program is obviously more cost effective unless the psychologists are trying to make a killing on depressed children. (Is it unethical to pirate therapeutic programs for sick kids? Christ, the day that case makes it to court I'm going to bury my head in a sandbar.)

3. Those poor psychologists need a better trailer. Why is the child wizard burning ice off of that naked man? (No, seriously, why is this happening oh god.) What's up with the sassy Will'o'Wisp? Apparently you are supposed to tell it off when it discourages you, if I can read the pixellated text correctly? This got me joshing that I wonder if the therapeutic mechanism is less the explicit acquisition of CBT skills and more the identification with and then incorporation of a confident, affirmative avatar who can embody strong parts of the self that are weakened, unused, or disavowed. My friend, glibly: "What would an effective control for that be? Dragon Age?" ... and I actually thought it was kind-of brilliant. Perhaps not Dragon Age, but I'd be curious to see what would happen if you framed as clinical (perhaps even with journals and such) a real game that's not ostensibly CBT-based but in which you play a character who is easy to identify with and with whom you get to make badass, self-confident, affirming decisions. I actually think Mass Effect would be a solid example, as Shepherd doesn't take shit from anyone (apart from Star Children, I suppose). There's a mention of a "placebo" computer program used in a previous study, but that appears to be for the pilot that is a Ph.D. dissertation and not published.

4. There's part of me that's worried that, just as much as dissemination might help a lot of mildly depressed teens, this computer program might become a barrier or gateway hurtle for more seriously depressed people to get more intense treatment. I remember reading a really, really despairing comment from a British MeFite who was required to go through some patronizing computerized CBT for depression before receiving further care. Something like, "identify the cognitive distortion Sad Sam is commiting when he says that everything is horrible!" Hm, Sad Sam, I dunno!... oh, wait, maybe... maybe I am Sad Sam?!? Gasp!!! I empathize with this reflexively; as someone who used to be pretty depressed, I really couldn't imagine having benefited from such a program for my particular depression.

I pretty desperately want to get a copy of this game, though, if only so I can personally tell the sassy Will'o'Wisp to fuck off. I might leave the naked ice guy alone, though. I hope that isn't an impediment to my faux-therapy.
posted by Keter at 8:11 PM on April 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

^ May have very well been a Freudian-style confusion of sorts, but *faux-therapy because I am not depressed and thus I would be playing it from a somewhat glib, atherapeutic perspective.
posted by Keter at 8:37 PM on April 20, 2012

"SPARX," which stands for Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts

I can't help wonder about the X-factor thoughts even though it's clearly a made up thing to get the acronym. Maybe mine is that I often idly think about a game in which one can play characters with different mental illnesses. Choices of good or bad real world outlets determine what happens to them and their social circles. Like a Sims version of a Katawa Shujo with the characters from American Beauty, Girl Interrupted and Bad Boy Bubby.
posted by yoHighness at 9:24 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

"SPARX," which stands for Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts

I was gunning for Smug Poseur Alcoholic Ratbag Xenophobe, but I guess that will have to do
posted by Sparx at 10:28 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Keter: (Is it unethical to pirate therapeutic programs for sick kids? Christ, the day that case makes it to court I'm going to bury my head in a sandbar.)

Hope you don't live too near the beach.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:05 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

where can I get a copy of this game?
posted by parmanparman at 3:07 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't seem like we can get a copy right now. Is that right?
posted by LarryC at 6:57 AM on April 21, 2012

I want to play this game!!

Browsing the game website, there's also a Gay Option for depressed GLBT teens, SPARX: The Rainbow Version!
posted by nicebookrack at 7:33 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

requesting "seriousgames" tag
posted by LogicalDash at 9:27 AM on April 21, 2012

Part of me thinks this is a great idea. Another part of me realizes that I already had a fair bit of metacognition when my depression manifested itself in my teenage years. Despite the fact that I never had a truly horrible episode until I was in my 20s and even then not something on the scale of, say, William Styron, I think that I most likely would have found this insulting. I remember sitting with my girlfriend in college writing up a list of depression indicators.

Then again, CBT never worked for me as well as it should.
posted by Hactar at 5:27 PM on April 21, 2012

I want to like this idea but man, that dorky. And I'm channeling 16-year-old me. OR, what Hactar said.
posted by Miko at 9:46 PM on April 21, 2012

The team had 11 researchers, psychologists, and students; 1 "learning technologist;" and just 1 software developer.
posted by salvia at 4:21 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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