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Why one Japanese entrepreneur is using an RPG to help fight depression

Why one Japanese entrepreneur is using an RPG to help fight depression

October 4, 2017 | By Chris Kerr

October 4, 2017 | By Chris Kerr
More: Programming, Design

A role-playing game developed by researchers and clinicians at the University of Auckland in New Zealand is making waves in Japan, but not for the reasons you might expect. 

As reported by The Japan Times, the game is called SPARX -- which is an acronym for Smart, Positive, Active, and Realistic -- and it's turning heads because it has been designed specifically to help those suffering with depression. 

Although SPARX was created in the late '00s, it only arrived in Japan last year thanks to the efforts of  Ayako Shimizu, a 30-year-old entrepreneur and head of online counselling firm Hikari Lab. 

Shimizu attended a high school in Australia during a year abroad, and claims her experience down under made her all too aware of how different countries percieve and deal with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. 

Compared to Japan, she believes people in the West are more open about their own struggles, so she wanted to bring SPARX back to Japan to help those resigned to suffering in silence. 

The game itself offers support by subtly employing several cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques, which are designed to help people manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave.

For instance, SPARX players are taught breathing techniques during the first 'level,' while the in-game characters and environments look to instil a sense of positivity. 

"I was studying CBT at university and knew it was a highly reliable approach," explained Shimizu. "But in Japan, many people with depression had heard of CBT but didn’t know where to go to receive a session. I thought the game was a perfect way to introduce CBT to people who were interested but were still scared of undergoing it face-to-face."

"When a counselor tells you in person, 'Let's be hopeful,' it doesn’t quite sink in for many people. But if a character in a fantasy world that you trust'says this, it can convince you."

The full story of how and why SPARX wound up in Japan is well worth a read, so be sure to check it out over on The Japan Times.

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