A Pilot Study Evaluating "Dojo," a Videogame Intervention for Youths with Externalizing and Anxiety Problems

Games Health J. 2015 Oct;4(5):401-8. doi: 10.1089/g4h.2014.0138. Epub 2015 Jul 14.


Objective: Externalizing problems, which are the main reason for youth referrals to mental health agencies, are highly persistent and predict a range of negative outcomes. Youths with externalizing problems are also frequently comorbid with anxiety. Among the most widely recognized evidence-based treatments is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Although CBT principles seem to be sound, effect sizes remain moderate, suggesting improvements could be made to this conventional treatment approach. The main premise of the current pilot study is to investigate the feasibility of implementing a videogame intervention ("Dojo" [Gamedesk, Los Angeles, CA]) that incorporates CBT principles and aims to address the limitations of conventional CBT delivery models, with the ultimate goal of improving outcomes for this difficult-to-treat population.

Materials and methods: "Dojo" is an emotion management game that helps youths to recognize and control their physiological and emotional arousal. We explored the implementation and user experience of "Dojo" in a sample of eight adolescents in residential treatment for both externalizing and anxiety problems.

Results: Participants attended all sessions without complaints. They evaluated "Dojo" very positively and exhibited high compliance during the training sessions. We encountered some problems with session scheduling and obtaining mentor reports. Quantitative data show the predicted decrease in three out of four measurements.

Conclusions: The smooth implementation, high user satisfaction, high self-reported compliance during training sessions, and initial outcome results all indicate the high potential "Dojo" holds as an innovative intervention. If additional rigorously designed randomized controlled trials prove to be successful, "Dojo" can be a cost-effective way to engage high-risk youths in effective intervention.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Biofeedback, Psychology / methods
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Los Angeles
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Residential Treatment
  • Self-Control
  • Social Skills
  • Video Games*