“The use of physiological controllers in a personalized game platform allows us to help our patients help themselves in a new way,” said Dr. Laurence Sugarman, director of the Center for Applied Psychophysiology and Self-Regulation at Rochester Institute of Technology.
A combination of rising tuition and declining student loans, along with greater competition to achieve top grades, has led an increasing number of college students to seek counseling and therapy.
The new therapeutic approach incorporates biofeedback, cognitive-behavioral therapy and health education in a video-game setting familiar to teens and young adults.
The game starts with assessments that help the players learn about and describe their anxieties and repetitive behavior by turning the players into game characters.
Using physiological sensors that are built into the game hardware, players then learn how to monitor the physiological manifestations of anxiety and stress, or what is commonly called their “fight or flight” response.
Finally, the players use those same sensors as controllers to move themselves through the game by monitoring and controlling their characters and the stress responses they represent.
“The game was inspired by clients and will involve client input and feedback throughout the development process,” said the researchers.
Sugarman said games involving physiological health are new, but none combines aspects of assessment, cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback in a creative and customizable setting. This game allows a unique extension of the therapist’s role that provides a fun, engaging platform for therapeutic change, while collecting data on psychophysiological change, he said.
The development team expects to use the prototype for clinical trials this fall, prior to developing it for a broader use.