New Zealand
University of Auckland, Ms. Sally Merry  

SPARX is a computerized self-help programme to help young people combat depression. It was developed by a team of cognitive behavioural therapists, researchers, game developers, e-learning theorists and young people. SPARX takes the form of an animated 3D game where users learn real-life skills by solving challenges to rid a fantasy world from gloom and negativity. Culturally relevant elements have been incorporated into the game world to ensure the programme has wide cultural acceptability. SPARX is unique because of the gaming technology it uses to engage users and because over 180 young people have been involved in a trial to test its effectiveness. Feedback from the testers called SPARX effective, engaging and helpful. As one in four youngsters experience an episode of clinical depression by the age of 18, and three quarters of them never receive help, this programme has the potential to make a positive impact on the lives of many young people in New Zealand and internationally.

Jury Evaluation: 

SPARX is a unique product combining computer game features in the field of cognitive behavioural therapy.

The main target group for SPARX are young people. As studies show, almost ¼ of youngsters have suffered from depression before reaching adulthood and without getting any help. There are many reasons why they are left alone with their problems, thus reaching out in a format familiar to them could be considered a breakthrough in health and therapy fields.

In SPARX, you tackle and solve series of quests, learn to think, talk and act in a constructive way, you are encouraged to analyse and compare your traditional behaviour to the improved one, and apply these skills in everyday situations. SPARX helps build the way to better self esteem and manage mood and stress in real life.

SPARX is based on a 3D animated game platform and is accessible in DVD format, from fall 2011 also available online. It could be said that SPARX has introduced a concept of a novel and long-awaited approach to health issues regarding young people, creating a new category of “healthtainment”.