Fantasy Video Game Zaps Depression in Adolescents


SPARX, an interactive video game in which significantly depressed adolescents shoot down “GNATs” (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts) in a quest to restore the balance in a fantasy world is as effective at reducing anxiety and depression than standard therapy. 187 adolescents at 24 primary healthcare sites in New Zealand either played SPARX or received treatment-as-usual over a period of four to seven weeks. At three-month follow-up remission rates were significantly higher in the SPARX arm (43.7%) than in treatment-as-usual (26.4%). “Around 80 percent of young people with depression never get treatment,” said lead author Sally N. Merry. “When you do the calculations of how many therapists you need to meet that need, it’s enormous.” Results are in the British Medical Journal.

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Press Release
SPARX website


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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. all I know is that my younger son spent six weeks playing computer games all day when his relationship with his girl-friend broke up. It helped somehow to take his pain away by redirecting his concentration away from his distress. After six weeks of this, he was able to move on.

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