Project

The Guardians

Copyright

Copyright MIT Media Lab

Lea Faske, Delphine Fourneau, Matt Sanz, Karen Teixeira, Craig Ferguson

The Guardians Project aims to use the same game design principles used in mobile games to help people form beneficial long-term habits and improve their overall wellbeing.

Forming positive health habits can be difficult. Whether it’s getting enough sleep, sticking to a diet, or going for a run, it’s tough to commit to a new schedule long enough to make it stick. This process is even harder when the habit focuses on long-term goals with no immediate noticeable benefits. Mobile video games, on the other hand, use common design techniques and mechanics to produce a loop that draws players to return on a regular schedule and encourages them to watch ads or pay a fee for special rewards within the game.

We have already used these same design principals to show that embedding a daily Patient Reported Outcome within a mobile game can drastically increase response rate and data quality in adolescents.

Now we are shifting our focus to show that games can be a beneficial therapeutic tool for those suffering from depression and anxiety. Oftentimes, people with depression struggle to find motivation to do even the most basic tas… View full description

The Guardians Project aims to use the same game design principles used in mobile games to help people form beneficial long-term habits and improve their overall wellbeing.

Forming positive health habits can be difficult. Whether it’s getting enough sleep, sticking to a diet, or going for a run, it’s tough to commit to a new schedule long enough to make it stick. This process is even harder when the habit focuses on long-term goals with no immediate noticeable benefits. Mobile video games, on the other hand, use common design techniques and mechanics to produce a loop that draws players to return on a regular schedule and encourages them to watch ads or pay a fee for special rewards within the game.

We have already used these same design principals to show that embedding a daily Patient Reported Outcome within a mobile game can drastically increase response rate and data quality in adolescents.

Now we are shifting our focus to show that games can be a beneficial therapeutic tool for those suffering from depression and anxiety. Oftentimes, people with depression struggle to find motivation to do even the most basic tasks. And yet, people with depression are motivated by video games just as much as anyone else. We aim to leverage this fact to use in-game rewards to motivate people to stick to therapeutic interventions.

We are launching The Guardians, a new mobile game that provides immediate and gratifying rewards for using a therapeutic technique known as behavioral activation. Behavioral activation is a therapy that asks people to choose and perform a meaningful and positive task, then reflect on it. By rewarding players for completing and reflecting on these real-life activities, we hope The Guardians will help people handle depression and live more fulfilling lives through the power of mobile games.

The behavioral activation techniques used within The Guardians were developed in collaboration with Chelsey Wilks, a postdoc at Harvard University and soon-to-be assistant professor at University of Missouri-St Louis. She is a member of the Nock Lab, where she studies the use of technology to treat people at risk for suicide. As such, she has a uniquely suited background to not only deeply understand behavioral activation therapy, but how to modify it to be effectively embedded within a video game. Chelsey advised the Guardians team on which aspects of behavioral activation therapy are most effective and why, what types of activities are the most effective, and how to maximize both engagement and benefits from within the unique context of a mobile game.

Gameplay, rewards, and behavioral activation

The Guardians is a strategy/resource management game focused on collecting and training pets. Evil villains have imprisoned the Guardian of each of many Realms, sending the Realms’ cute little animals into hiding. It’s up to you to inspire these animals and send them on missions to learn skills they can use to fight back and reclaim their Realm. You have missions that your pets can complete, each of which requires certain types of skills; completing a mission rewards experience points in a given skill. It’s your task to decide which pet goes on which missions in order to best train them into an elite team. Along the way you need to collect spirit gems, pet activities, cosmetic outfits, gold, and items you can use to make missions easier. Once the pets are strong enough, you can send a team to fight back against the villain attacking their Realm, which will unlock more features and rewards. Eventually, when you’ve assembled an elite enough team, you can free the Guardian and save its Realm once and for all.

When you open the game, you’ll be shown a cutscene explaining the backstory, then you’ll be led through a gameplay tutorial. During the tutorial sequence, you’ll be guided to choose a meaningful adventure to complete in real life (i.e, behavioral activation), then you’ll be given time to complete it. After you’ve completed your adventure, you are asked to reflect on it and how it has affected your mood. Once you’ve completed that, you get in-game rewards including new pets, spirit gems, and gold coins. You are free to play the game as much as you want while your adventure is in progress. Every day, you’ll get a notification that a new adventure is available, allowing you to choose and complete a new adventure for that day. And every time you complete your daily adventure, you’ll earn new in-game rewards!