Doris C. Rusch - Lessons Learnt from Creating an Anti-Anxiety Game

Download Doris C. Rusch - Lessons Learnt from Creating an Anti-Anxiety Game

Post on 16-Apr-2017




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  • Lessons Learnt from Creating an Anti-Anxiety Game

    Doris C. Rusch, PhD, DePaul University, Play 4 Change lab @D_Carmen

  • The Problem: 40 Million US adults with

    anxiety disorder

  • we owe it to our children, not to pass on our anxieties.

  • research on the problem

    SME Prof. Reid Wilson

  • challenges to treatment

    anxious peoples rigid belief system

    avoidance and resistance of fear

    only seek help when current strategies produce new set of problems

    Wilson, R. (2009): The Art of Persuasion in Anxiety Treatment, In Kerman, M. [ed.], Clinical Pearls of Wisdom: Leading Therapists offer Essential Insights. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

  • Soterias Goal Initiate perspective shift

    from avoidance & resistance of fear to embracing & wanting it

    Leverage the embodied experience of games

    Design structured after recursive learning model

  • Embodied Experience =

    learning through acting upon the world and experiencing consequences of actions 1st hand


  • Recursive learning

    Mitgutsch & Weise

  • Soteria is designed to disappoint old beliefs through embodied experience in order to facilitate a perspective shift

  • Not a CURE!

    Soteria is comparable to self help books. The principles are sound and based on decades of successful psychotherapy. But the game can only get you this far. You have to apply its strategies to real life yourself. Its not a What you do is what you get kinda game - it targets belief systems; it doesnt train behavior.

  • Soteria - development context & approach

    DPU Play for Change lab

    4 months concept phase

    14 months development

    $12.000 funding

    students, alumni, professionals, SMEs

    poetry meets purpose

  • Design Challenges1. Game models anxieties in a general sense

    2. Game overcomes players resistance to the theme

    1. not preachy!

    3. Overcoming fears must be non-trivial

    4. Promoting reflection and insight to facilitate transfer to real life


    view Soteria video here

  • 1. Modeling Anxiety in a general sense: metaphorical approach

    To model the essence of anxiety disorder, rather than depicting specific surface manifestations of it, we decided to take a metaphorical approach to the design. According to our subject matter expert, Reid Wilson, treating anxiety disorders has little to do with the content of a particular fear (e.g. germs, flying, social judgment.) It is about targeting the motivations behind anxiety patients actions: namely to AVOID and REJECT FEAR.

    These motivations are the INVISIBLE FORCE underlying all anxiety disorders. They are also abstract. We can only see their symptoms, e.g. carefully avoiding the cracks between two cobblestones, not flying.

    Metaphors are excellent tools to make the abstract concrete. They allow us to get an inside view.


  • 2. Overcoming Resistance: Metaphors =Magic Door

    counter resistance to a difficult theme & learning something new

    tapping into fantasy

    stimulating curiosity

    (inspired by: Ruben Farrus, Vander Caballero, Jesse Schell)

  • Soterias core metaphors

    gameworld = Anas inner world = harbor town

    harbor town = infested by Shadows = fears

    harbor town = worships Soteria = goddess of safety

    Goal: claim your dreams from Oicys = disorder

    Conflict: Oicys minions, the Shadows

  • Soterias servants = aspects of Anas anxious self

    the town is empty except for a few other characters - Soterias servants - aspects of Anas anxious self. They bestow protective items upon Ana: the Soteria token to beam out of danger, a flash bang to stun shadows, a compass and a Phobos suit.

  • OMalley the cat = Therapist

    The only other character in Soteria is the alley cat OMalley, whose sarcasm is only surpassed by his mangy appearance. OMalley is the counter-voice to Soterias servants. To reinforce the recursive learning process, he is designed to raise suspicion and resistance. He pushes you out of your comfort zone, but you are not ready. It makes sense to doubt his trustworthiness at this point.

  • Soterias metaphors, cont. 3 districts representing 3 salient (general)

    aspects of anxiety

    music district: fear of self-expression

    theatre district: fear of judgement

    observatory: fear of uncertainty

    Each district features one anxiety challenge location

  • Music store: Fear of self-expression

  • Puppet theatre: fear of judgement

  • Observatory: Fear of Uncertainty

  • metaphorical core mechanics

    mechanics model Anas relation to fear

    Part 1: stealth gameplay = avoidance

    Part 2: safety at the cost of agency through Phobos Suit

    Part 3: provoke and linger through the fear

  • 3. From fearful to fierce -

    the role of Game Structure to make fighting fears mean something, and leverage recursive learning

  • modeling the journey, not just the solution

    Part 1: models perceived reality of anxiety patient

    Shadows = insurmountable

    Increased desire for safety / protection

  • modeling the journey, not just the solution

    Part 2: impasse

    increase safety measures through Phobos Suit

    safe & stuck

    disappointment as basis for new learning

  • modeling the journey, not just the solution

    Part 3: New Strategy!

    linger & provoke

    emotional challenge

    work through it, move towards the fear

    gain key to recovery

    face Oicys

    claim dreams

  • 4. Speaking the Mind

    the role of Voice Over to promote insight, reflection and real-life transfer

  • Anas VO: intended to convey her inner conflict

    Dialogue with Soterias servants: intended to reinforce Anas doubts

    Dialogue with OMalley: clarifying metaphors and reflection prompt

    What do you think happened? 35 pages of dialogue

    rewritten several times to make Ana seem more hesitant in the beginning

    Dialogues with OMalley to talk through the individual stages of the game

  • Summary Soteria allows players to experience the ineffectiveness of common

    anxiety strategies

    by way of disappointing these strategies, it prepares the ground for new learning

    it uses metaphors to capture the essence of anxiety and to present a mystery that incentivizes continued play

    the game works: you cant win, without understanding the message / new strategies

    its not a cure: players still need to do the work in real life

    AND: making = more effective than playing

  • Outlook: Soteria goes

  • thanks, questions?