Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

LinkedWellness LLC

Name of Innovative Program: 
SPARX, The Video Game That Treats Depression
Sponsoring Organization
LinkedWellness LLC
Name of Innovative Program Lead: 
David Burt
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Project Description: 
SPARX is the only computer game clinically proven to treat depression and anxiety. Results of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of SPARX were published in the British Medical Journal in May 2012. In this clinical trial, 44% of the young people who played SPARX experienced remission (they were no longer depressed) compared to 26% of the young people in the treatment as usual group (traditional psychotherapy). SPARX is an award-winning, professionally-produced, 3-D, fantasy role-playing game that has been designed to treat mild to moderate depression and anxiety in young people (12 – 21). The immersive and engaging nature of a professionally-designed video game, based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is crucial in helping young people draw on their inner strengths to overcome their depression or reduce its symptoms. For directions to access SPARX, please go to, "Click Here To Play SPARX Now" in the top menu bar.
Creativity and Innovation: 
Oncologists have tried for decades to find a vector to replace cancerous genes with healthy genes.  They’ve tried the cold virus, even the AIDS virus.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is effective in treating depression and anxiety.  The challenge has been that 75%-80% of young people with depression do not access help for a variety of reasons.  The engaging, fun and immersive nature of video games has proven to be an effective vector, or dose delivery device, for CBT with young people.  SPARX, the video game for depression, is a vector for delivering CBT to young people in a manner that is familiar and appealing to them.  We submit that the invention of SPARX, in which learning CBT is embedded in the game play, is the most creative innovation in behavioral health and will have the most impact in an area of great public health need – untreated depression in young people.  
The clinical results, creativity and the great potential impact of SPARX has attracted many researchers and clinicians at top institutions in behavioral health in the US to begin trials of SPARX, to initiate new trials, and to begin to collaborate on using and improving SPARX.  Among the institutions that have begun clinical trials, initiated planning for clinical trials or that are collaborating with (the company with the US rights to SPARX) are: the NIMH (two groups), the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins, Shepard Pratt, Cleveland Clinic, Mclean Hospital and Judge Baker Center of Harvard Medical School, Brown University, Yale, Boys Town, Georgetown, the University of Maryland, and the University of Texas, among others.  One institution has begun an fMRI study of SPARX in young people suffering from depression.  The Australian government has committed $7 million to study the ability of SPARX to reduce the incidence of depression.
Digital software interventions are the most sustainable interventions in behavioral health.  Once a particular software game, such as SPARX, is proven to be effective the resources needed to make it available to patients are minimal, including internet servers and a small team of people to keep it running.  The following institutions have a vested interest in the SPARX game and are funding its study, development or deployment or collaborating in its study and development:  the government of New Zealand; the University of Auckland Medical School; the government of Australia, the Black Dog Institute; the National Health Service in the UK; the government of the Netherlands; the institutions listed above in the US, and, the US company with rights to SPARX in North America.  
As a digital therapy, SPARX is the most easily replicated intervention.  On computer servers, we can serve the same version to all 10 million young people in the US who suffer from depression or anxiety.  (The computing power to serve millions of people at the same time is possible on Amazon’s cloud services, for example.)  One of the benefits of digital therapies such as SPARX is that they can also be slightly customized for different populations.  Different groups have asked us to do versions for their particular patient populations, including:  young people who have grown up in extreme poverty and with drugs and violence; young people with chronic medical conditions such as type 1 diabetes, asthma, and epilepsy; and post partum mothers, among others.  
SPARX is the only computer game proven in a clinical trial to be effective in treating depression and anxiety in young people.  The results were so impressive that they were published in the British medical Journal and SPARX was featured on the cover the May 2012 British Medical Journal.   In this randomized clinical trial, treatment with SPARX was compared to standard psychotherapy CBT in young people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety.  Among the young people who played SPARX, 44% experienced remission compared to 26% among the young people who received standard psychotherapy CBT.  In reduction of depression symptoms, playing SPARX was as effective as standard psychotherapy.   It is believed that playing SPARX provides young people with a way to use their inner strengths to proactively learn to manage their emotional health.