EDIT: just joined today. I thought "Send msg to group" meant post discussion...doh...

While I have seem and played a couple games that help people with mental disorders or problems, I have NEVER:

1. seen a game geared towards helping those with severe mental illness, and

2. where are the IN-DEPTH games that don't require a phone or computer? Are they effective?

I am developing a giant 2 year RPG for the residential treatment center for which I work. The game is quite similar to Epic Win regarding rewards and quests. Now, I wouldn't be surprised if you can answer both 1. and 2. because admittedly, I've done very little research. I have been working on this game for months and JUST last week wondered "hey, has anyone else made games structured like this"? I was absolutely awe-struck to find SuperBetter, Epic Win, and a few other games that eerily mirror a game I was already developing!

So here's the philosophy and purpose of the game. People go through developmental stages through life. Well at the onset of mental illness, these people are often developmentally STUCK. Therefore the development of life skills like socialization, impulse control, awareness of the self and environment, etc. come to a screeching halt. Besides "Life Skills" (the name of the current program), people with severe mental illness are often tragically lost in their own heads and never learned basic tasks we may consider "day-to-day". For example, I worked with a guy who at first became very stressed and angry when attempting to turn on a functional gas stove. On the other hand - don't we all when those damn clicks just keep clicking and we no flame?! URGNOT ANGRY :) So many of these individuals make wonderful progress in treatment centers and then graduate and discharge. Well what happens next? Many people spend over a year under the umbrella of the comprehensive services of inpatient centers (provided meals, med management, not required to work, laundry service, etc.). When they leave this supportive environment, many are overwhelmed with stress and unable to cope with life in society - don't we all fumble with life? Multiply that by a bagillion for someone with severe mental illness. It's CRIPPLING.

So! The game is a two year (rough estimate for how long it will take to complete) RPG designed FOR those with severe mental illness. BUT the focus is on the skills that will improve quality of life and potentially help reintegrate them into our stinky inconsiderate society (can you tell I'm a social worker?).

The game takes two years because of its structure continues to evolve - pokes at coping skills and resilience. There are five stages and nine levels. Stage I is a slow introduction to the basics of the program. Below is the strategy guide and outline for Level I. Explanations of "what the hell is that?" are below.

2-5 days

LEVEL 1 introduces the player to the program without adding much stress or responsibility. It is designed so that the player can beat the level between 2-5 days depending on their own motivation and comfort level.

Next level: 1000 EXP

Attend the 11am meetings at 716 – 100 EXP
Eat lunch at 720 – 50 EXP
Eat dinner at 720 – 50 EXP
Defeat additional challenges from LVL 1-4 = 100 EXP/challenge
5 days + = ¤5
4 days = ¤7
3 days = ¤10
2 days = ¤15

+1 FEL
+1 RES

A₧ w/all SQ
+2 FEL
+2 RES
+1 STR

+1 CHR for volunteering to lead 11am
+1 CRE for WCD

Ok...so...Jesus this post is taking me FOREVER. Level 1 can be completed between 2-5 days. Flexibility of completion time allows us (clinical) and specifically me (uber-player, gamemaster/ultra mega boss - I don't have fantasy name for myself yet lol) to evaluate initial motivation, confidence, and general comfort with the program.

QUESTS: the challenges to defeat in this level and the exp earned for each. Level 1 at the base is quite simple. They in fact don't have to say a SINGLE WORD or really do ANYTHING. It is designed for social integration with the other players and program format.

SIDE QUESTS: allow the player to beat the level quicker by completing challenges from later levels in S1 and earning exp.

Treasure: Here's where it get's interesting. I read a lot of empirical studies about motivation. What I found particularly intriguing is the concept of criterion-based rewards vs. informational rewards. Criterion based rewards say "Hey, you performed UP TO STANDARDS. Congrats. Here's a thing". Informational rewards say "Hey, you performed WELL/GREAT/FANTASTIC. Congrats. Here's a thing". So treasure is an informational reward that says - "You did MORE, FASTER, so here is MORE REWARD". An example of a game that has a brilliant informational reward system is Candy Crush Saga. The sultry announcer says four things - SWEET, TASTY, DELICIOUS, DIVINE. Each one indicates that you performed WELL/GREAT/FANTASTIC.

So treasure is a monetary system like coins or gold or whatever. I call them Intergalactic Credits (IGC) and the icon is ¤ (alt 0164). The icon is fittingly defined as "universal currency symbol". Those who beat the level faster get more reward but those who need more time still get a reward. IGCs by the way are based on the Zelda rupee system. I even found cheap, plastic tokens that come in red, blue, green, silver, and gold and bought a bunch of velveteen bags for the players to carry them in! Ha! I have not figured out what the players will buy with IGCs but that's one of the things for which I could use some tips.

ATTRIBUTE POINTS (A₧): A₧(alt 158) are based on general RPG stats. I have 12 attributes written and defined. Gonna have to erk out of the lengthy philosophy and therapeutic value of the construct for my own sake. The player can EARN MORE A₧ by completing all SQs and/or beating the hidden bonus quests. The A₧ listed here are: Fellowship, Resilience, Creativity, Charisma, and Strength. This system is an INTEGRAL component for showing the player how such mundane tasks help improve their lives.

Well! That's a small peak into the game with the reward system nearly fully defined. I thought I would just share what I'm working on because I think this game has SERIOUS potential. I have some insecurities I'd like to share but I can't write anymore today...I have to lock-up the fort and go feed the imprisoned hellhound in the depths of my dank and cavernous...apartment.

I would LOVE to hear suggestions, questions, and rants of outrage.

Thanks for reading! +1 FOR for making to the bottom (+1 logic for figuring out what FOR means)

Views: 301

Replies to This Discussion

Hi Matt,

Thanks for a great post!  We, too, our developing an iOS game re: mental health.  While (we hope) it will mostly be fun, it should allow for some education and coping strategies on how to help yourself and how to help others.  Targeted for the 9-18 year old market (but also to their parents), eventually through our gaming ecosystem, we'll have games for every mental illness/diagnosis in the DSM-V.  But our first game will be about bullying (another component of the game will be to improve empathy levels - ie: changing behaviour using an on-line tool for off-line life).  We have just started development of a prototype and are looking to launch an Indigogo campaign in mid/late March, 2014.  

It might be useful for us to connect to discuss.  While no details are on-line yet, more about my organization, www.healthymindscanada.ca, can be found by visiting our web site.  

I look forward to more updates from you!!  Good luck!

Hey Matt,

I agree with Katie, you've obviously put a lot of thought and effort into this idea! As an early career Psychologist with a background in programming (I was a web programming consultant for 5 years before going into Psych) and an avid gamer, it's one of my dreams to work on creating mental health applications with gaming components. I've always felt that RPG systems and advancement with social components would fit with wellness/mental health apps. Your structure I think does a good job exploring one way that might work and some elements may work well with mobile/web applications as well.

I think most of your concepts make sense, some elements I have questions about are, what purpose does the currency serve, can it be used to purchase things within the game system, or outside of the system? Also, what is the meaning of the different RPG stats, how are they defined and how do they translate to represent real world skills?

I think a cornerstone of any mental health application is a social component both for motivational purposes , to build social skills and increase social support resources. I'd be interested in exploring how those elements could be translated to a mobile application for example.

If either you or Katie would like to speak further, I'd definitely be interested. I'm also very interested in the project your group is working on Katie. I've signed up at your website and will keep an eye out for more info.

Hi Brian and thanks for your comments and interest.

I can definitely keep you in the loop.  We are meeting with our developers, designers, and research team on the 16th and will be moving forward quickly with a prototype and video which will be used in our upcoming crowdfunding campaign.  So most of the info you are likely to receive through newsletters will be about the crowdfunding campaign.  But we may start a blog about the process too.  I'll connect with you on Linked In and feel free to send me a message as to anything more specific you'd like to discuss!  Thanks!!  Katie

Thank you both for the encouraging comments. Katie, I'm itching to see where your game goes. I just signed up for the newsletter and I'm glad to see a response from Canada! That reminds me that one influence for structure in my game was a type of successful Canadian education system (I imagine there are different ones?) that works with students on their OWN time; the students are not crushed by the demands and EXPECTATIONS that everyone learns at the same pace. The students are also able to develop their OWN goals in their education and are allowed to focus MORE on the subjects that interest them. This is a much more individualized and PERSONAL system that I wholeheartedly support.

Brian, to answer a couple of your questions:

The money system: the intergalactic credits can be used to purchase in game items as well as things and events people enjoy in the real world. The purchasable items need to have REAL VALUE or I believe the entire mechanic will be undermined.

An example of an in-game item is the spell Clone. Clone is whimsically defined as "Create a copy of yourself! Fool everyone into thinking you spent the day working hard when actually you slept all day! All exp and IGC earned as usual. Stasis 1"

An example of an out of game is the event Off-Campus Lunch - Stasis 2. There are two types, one where I or the agency pays and one where the players pay for their own lunch. A minimum of 3 party members is required for the agency to pay and we take them out to a nearby non-fast food restaurant of the players' choice. Other out-of-game items range from small ice-cream shop visits to the very expensive George Observatory for a brilliant star-gazing event. I am curious to see how they come up with the IGCs for that one!

Stasis is the number of days required to wait until the player can use the item. This reinforces impulse control and planning as well as prevents the agency from being blindsided with a bunch of absences in a single day.

I'm still working out MEANINGFUL rewards but the larger purpose is to begin poking at money management skills. The player can also learn about other purchasing mechanisms we use in the real world by buying items on layaway, credit, and loans. One goal I have for the system is that players will collaborate with each other to enjoy outings or days off together.

The attribute system is meant to act as a tool for thoughtful introspection into one's own character traits. The player is given 50 points at the beginning of the game to distribute among 20 slots for 10 stats (down from 12, the other two are now special traits that can only be earned by completing special tasks). They are all carefully defined so the player knows what they're working with. Defining them and breaking them up helps the player to look at him/herself with greater precision than the question "what do you want to improve upon?"

Fellowship for example is a stat that represents the player's ability to collaborate and work with others. This is transferable in the sense that working and getting along with others in the real world is immensely important. For each point of FEL earned, I want the player to have the opportunity to visualize and understand how small successes are imperative to improving oneself in the long run. By the end of the game, the bars will nearly be full. There is a second playthrough option if the player is a completist and wants to max out :)


The wallets finally came in! All IGCs a player earns are kept in wallets. As the player makes more money, they will need to buy larger wallets to hold more money! For practicality's sake, the wallets don't physically get bigger, they just conceptually get bigger: It's bigger on the inside!

I don't yet have the budget to purchase the quantity of IGCs I need yet but the red ones here are worth 10 IGCs.

Hey Matt!
May I ask what you are using to prototype your game?
Is there an official blog I can follow?


Thanks for your interest! By prototyping do you mean testing? Just developing. I don't have a blog but that's not a terrible idea...

I've introduced a couple components of the game into the current program - test driving the material but not ready to implement. Results have been pretty good so far. In stage 3 I ask the players to come up with up to ten goals for each of twelve categories (money management, social life development, positive leisure time development, etc.). I handed out a packet that defined each category and offered ten numbered spaces for each. Some people returned  the packet completely filled out! That's 120 [ATTAINABLE] goals! The enthusiasm and interest is very encouraging. I have also gathered a little intel on the money system I talk about above and I have certainly piqued their interest on that as well!

I love your website by the way. It's a bummer that the class is just for your high school students. How is the hype among students and interest in getting into the class?


Was thinking your RPG was web/app based similar to the EPIC WIN you mentioned.  Thought maybe you were using some special software tools to prototype.  My class and club have a pretty good turnout and have had quite a few students go on to related jobs.  Wish I could get more girls involved though...  and artists....



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