Irish video game becomes a successful cognitive therapy tool for children

Irish PC game gNat Island, used as a cognitive therapy tool to treat children suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues, was picked up for use by therapists worldwide.

Irish computer game Pesky Gnats! is now in use internationally as a cognitive therapy tool to treat children suffering from anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, reports Technical Central.

In the game, players traverse Gnat Island with a group of explorers, as shown in the video below. These characters explore mental health through questions directed at the player, conversations with each other, and cutscenes. Players must identify and capture creatures called gnats, physical manifestations of negative thoughts that do harm to players. The goal is to help players externalize mental conflicts and learn to overcome them.

Pesky Gnats! was made for therapists to work with children who are too young for more mature-oriented therapy processes. The game is adapted from a behavioral therapy workbook designed by University College Dublin psychology professor Dr. Gary O'Reilly in 2000 and conceived into playable format with University of Bristol computer studies lecturer David Coyle. It is meant for use by children between the ages of nine and 12 with persistent mental health issues.

"As of June 2012 over 700 mental health professionals in Ireland, the UK and the US have received training on the gNats Island clinical intervention for adolescents," O'Reilly wrote on his personal blog.

"They absolutely loved it, they'd never seen anything like it before," he told Technical Central. "Now we'd like to take it to the next level, to iron out the glitches and produce another version for older children."

"We're currently looking for an animation company and a game development company to come on board as skills sponsors so more children can benefit from its use," he added.

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