A game to help kids with anger problems

From TheStar Online

12th Aug 2013

IN an age where many are hooked on computer games, Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health (IMH) is experimenting with using the medium to reach out to children with anger problems.

It hopes that primary school children can learn to control their anger and impulses after playing Regna Tales, a role-playing computer game that it launched recently.

Dr Daniel Fung, chairman of the IMH medical board, said, “Anger is the most common negative emotion that children experience. It is found in all sorts of conditions from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to depression and when it gets really bad, it results in violence.”

He hopes to reach out to large groups of children through the game, to give them some help in dealing with their emotions. It is hoped that this would reduce the number of children who need psychiatric help.

The IMH’s Child Guidance Clinic, for patients between six and 19, has been seeing between 2,500 and 3,000 new patients a year, in the last five years.

The most common conditions are ADHD, stress-related problems and autism spectrum disorders.

The IMH worked with game developer IP Spaces to come up with it, at a cost of about S$220,000 (RM560,489).

Unlike many computer games, violence does not pay in Regna (“anger” spelled backwards) Tales, where the player has to save his parents from the game’s villain.

To do well, a player must keep his impulses in check. There are also problems to solve and tips on managing anxiety, anger and other emotions.

Dr Fung said, “In the usual games, you have to slash the monsters repeatedly. But if you keep slashing, or slash them too hard in this game, you will lose points. So you learn self-control.”

This is not the first game the IMH has developed.

In 2009, it created Roc-N-Ash, to treat children with ADHD and anxiety disorders.

A preliminary study found the game helpful in improving the child’s attention span, among other things, added Dr Fung.

It is also currently developing Brain Pal — partnering the Institute for Infocomm Research and Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School — to improve attention span and reduce hyperactivity in children with ADHD.

Psychiatrists said computer games are a good way to engage children.

But whether they use the skills they have learnt in the game and apply it to real-life situations remains to be seen.

Dr Brian Yeo, a child psychiatrist in private practice, said, “I think the game is still a worthwhile effort.

“It’s always better to move into preventive efforts, as it’s harder to treat a child with full-blown anger issues.” — ST Asia News Network