Intense Fun + Science + Clinical techniques = MindLight
MindLight is a video game we’ve produced with game developers at Gain Play
MindLight incorporates several evidence-based strategies including relaxation and mindfulness techniques, attention bias modification methods, and neurofeedback mechanics that together produce an immersive game world through which children learn to manage and overcome anxiety symptoms. But this is not a “serious game” — it’s designed to be intensely fun, to harness children’s intrinsic curiosity and wonder and to bridge fantasy and reality such that children become empowered across all contexts in their lives.
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MindLight is a video game aimed at children 8 – 12 years of age and is based on evidence-based principles of intervention with anxiety-disordered children and adults. The game is designed by game developers at Gain Play, a commercial game company specializing in biofeedback mechanics. In the game, Little Arthur is left on the doorstep of a scary mansion by his parents. He finds a glowing headset that introduces himself as Teru the Magical Hat and warns Arthur that his grandmother has succumbed to shadows. Only Arthur, with the help of the Hat, can bring her back. But to do this, first Arthur must learn to use his own powerful mind to overcome his greatest fears. Through simple (at first) puzzles and relaxation techniques, Teru teaches him how to use his “mindlight.” Through these lessons and increasingly difficult puzzles and “fear events,” the player learns that he can conquer his fear and anxiety by tapping into the power of his own mind. Using the neurofeedback headset to play the game, the environment, threats and puzzles all respond to how the player is allocating his attention and, thus, how he is feeling. Relaxation allows for a light bubble to shine on the surroundings and focused concentration unlocks hiding spaces and allows the player to solve attention bias modification puzzles.
The Science. The game is an immersive training ground that uses evidence-based therapeutic practices including neurofeedback mechanics and exposure techniques to teach children to overcome their fears by (a) disattending to threatening cues and shifting attention away from those cues, (b) focusing on positive aspects of the environment in the service of relevant goals, and (c) regulating (dampening) arousal levels associated with anxiety through relaxation and mindfulness.
Here’s an example of when the player encounters a “fear event” (children are exposed to fearful stimuli that increase in intensity as the player becomes more comfortable coping with these situations). The more relaxed/meditative the player becomes, the brighter his “mindlight” shines. In fearful situations (e.g., the clock on the left looks like a monster), the player must remain calm to light up the environment and realize that the situation is banal, not threatening.
Our working hypothesis — one we are testing with children at-risk for anxiety disorders — is that after many intense experiences of remaining calm in threatening situations, children develop healthier habits of mind. They learn to manage their distressing emotions through immersive, engaging gameplay. We believe that it is this in-game practice that canalizes new neural pathways and these new pathways may be the means by which playing MindLight forms resilient habits of mind that transfer to children’s everyday lives. Our ongoing research program in partnership with the Developmental Psychopathology department at Radboud University Nijmegen aims to test these hypotheses through systematic randomized controlled trials and carefully controlled experiments.