Seattle startup's games tackle anxiety, depression

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by RENAY SAN MIGUEL / KING5 News

KING5.com

Posted on February 25, 2014 at 12:02 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 25 at 7:41 PM

A Seattle-based startup is designing smartphone games that it hopes are fun to play. Yet there's a serious goal to all that gameplay: helping adults who suffer from anxiety, stress or depression.

A prototype of Litesprite's first game, called Sina Sprite, is winning praise from doctors and also helping the company score points in startup competitions like last week's Portland Fast Pitch.

In Sina Sprite, players help Socks the Fox deal with certain challenges. At the same time, that gameplay lets adults practice coping mechanisms that they can apply to other life situations, according to Samantha Burns Artherholt, Ph.D, Litesprite's clinical consultant.

"These are evidence-based stress management and coping skills," Dr. Artherholt said, "things like deep breathing, imagery exercises, cognitive coping strategies, practical hands-on techniques that they can use when they're dealing with something stressful in their lives."

Litesprite CEO Swatee Surve has a background working for health-related companies and technology firms. She knew there was a decade's worth of research - 38 randomized clinical trials - that showed games could help people with a variety of chronic health conditions. Previous attempts didn't quite hit the mark, she said.

"Games are highly engineered experiences, and unless you have a respect and appreciation for that - the spirit, the creativity - you're going to miss the engagement, which is so crucial to make these effective," Surve said. "In every one of those instances, what I kept running across was a gap in motivation."

She found that many times, other company's games actually called attention to whatever condition the player was suffering from. "When you look at games, they motivate people in a very core, visceral way. So my thought process was, what if you used that to actually help someone achieve some of the goals they wanted?"

A year's worth of work has led to the prototype, and now Litesprite is seeking angel investors and partners, which could include insurance companies, hospitals, corporate wellness programs and self-funded employers.

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