PM.20.013 – Serious Gaming as a digital diagnosis and intervention tool for depression

Route: Personalised medicine: the individual at the centre

Cluster question: 105 How can Big Data and technological innovation (e-health) contribute to health care?

Depression is a global health problem affecting the lives of millions of people, and is the worlds leading cause for disability. Available depression treatments are reasonably effective on average, but many patients do not respond to them, for several reasons:
Evidence-based treatments such as psychotherapy and antidepressants mostly follow a one-size-fits-all approach.
Effectiveness research has not taken individual differences into account and accordingly we do not know which treatment works best for whom, making treatment selection a process of trial and error.
As a result, many patients do not respond because they receive a non-optimal form of treatment.
The working mechanisms of existing treatments are also unknown, which further limits the possibility to tailor treatments to the needs of the individual.
To tackle these challenges, we will develop a Serious Game as a digital diagnosis and intervention tool for depression that incorporates components of the most effective depression psychotherapies and study its effectiveness in a population-based RCT. Serious Games have the huge advantage that they instantly adapt and personalize to the user, produce rich ecological data and are engaging and fun to play (especially for younger users), as opposed to e-health therapies that are effective but also suffer from drop-out because patients find them unattractive and boring to work with.
The constant user input in Serious Gaming also allows us to identify predictors of treatment response and the working mechanisms that account for outcome, using smart diagnostics and artificial intelligence, so that we can combine the what-works-for-whom question (prediction) with the how-does-it-work question (mechanism) from a precision mental health perspective. If the easily scalable and low-cost Serious Game we will develop proves effective, it can become the first stage in stepped-care depression treatment, while tailoring the treatment itself to the needs of the individual patient, which will improve treatment outcome.


Artificial Intelligence, Depression, Personalized medicine, Serious Health Games

Other organisations

Maastricht University, National Network of Mental Health Centres, Yellow Riders (Serious Games)


Organisation Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)
Name Prof. dr. M.J.H. (Marcus) Huibers