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Stephen Knightly

The Challenges of Gamifying Mental Health

Teenage mental health, suicide and harmful online behaviour are some of the most important issues facing future New Zealanders and can have a devasting personal impact. Hope is offered by research showing that e-therapies delivering tools such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) online can be as effective as in-personal counselling in many cases. Research also suggests that ‘shallow’ gamification or trying to be down with the kids doesn’t work. Neither does dumbing down, as a degree of complexity is required for games to hold attention. With Auckland Medical School’s HABITS Cognitive Behavioural Therapy tool, the UX challenge was to adopt paper-based linear processes traditionally done face-to-face with a counselor into a gamified app. Adding complexity, choice and consequences required some of the core Cognitive Behavioural Therapy exercises to be redesigned for an interactive medium. This is year one of a multi-year user-centred design and clinical research project funded by MBIE’s National Science Challenge. While gaming elements were added for visual appeal and initial attraction, more sophisticated interactive systems were designed to teach and rehearse skills that users were ultimately expected to adopt in their daily lives.