Designing, testing and implementing effective, commercial-grade games for children’s mental health is a complex initiative that requires diverse expertise. The PlayNice Institute partners with experts across diverse disciplines to develop and test games that promote children’s mental health. We are an international, multidisciplinary group of academic, developmental and clinical psychologists, education innovators, game designers, artists, and programmers. We also have formal partnerships with 100s of schools and children’s mental health agencies across the US, Canada and the Netherlands, ensuring that our research is embedded in the real-world contexts that need it most and that roll-out of effective games is efficient, cost-effective and wide-spread.


Rutger Engels is CEO of the Trimbos Institute; the Netherlands institute for mental health and addiction, and professor in Developmental Psychopathology in Nijmegen. His fundamental and applied research focuses on early stages of substance use, depression and anxiety in children and adolescents. In 2010, the health council of NWO awarded his team a center of excellence grant, which is a multi-disciplinary collaboration between institutions and university to improve prevention and care for anxiety and depression. In 2011, he received the Huibregtsenprijs, an annual national award, by NWO and Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW) for outstanding research with evident societal impact. Together with Isabel Granic and Adam Lobel, he published a review of the mental health benefits of playing video games in American Psychologist in 2014. He collaborates intensively with Isabel Granic in various endeavors, amongst others in a NWO-funded international consortium on developing and testing games for improving and promoting mental health in children and adolescents, and in the development of MindLight, a neurofeedback game to help children with anxiety.


RobinRobin Hunicke is the co-founder of Funomena, an independent game studio located in the heart of San Francisco. She is a game designer and producer, with a background in fine art, computer science and applied game studies. Robin joined EA in 2005, where she worked on The Sims2MySims, and Steven Spielberg’s Boom Blox series for the Nintendo Wii. In the spring of 2009 she joined thatgamecompany as Executive Producer of the award-winning PSN downloadable title, Journey. Recognized as an influentialWoman in Games, Robin is an evangelist for diversity of thought and participation in game design and game culture. She co-organizes the annual Experimental Gameplay Workshop, has chaired the IndieCade Festival, and lectures extensively on how developers can create novel, experimental designs by focusing on the feeling.

JoshJosh Whitkin is a Designer/Researcher at Northwest Media Inc, and Adjunct Lecturer in Games Art and Design at School of the Arts at Murdoch University.  Josh’s research focuses on mental health issues among mainstream teens using innovative design of game-based interventions.  Josh’s doctoral dissertation was conferred by the School of Design at Curtin University in December 2013, on the topic of Activity-Goal Alignment in serious game design.   A veteran commercial video game developer, Josh has worked for Xeodesign, EA, NVidia, Disney, Hasbro, NASA on PCs, consoles, and a wide array of innovative mobile devices, including early smartphones, electronic toys and mobile phones.  An early technology expert in video game art, Josh wrote the first book on 3D art for games, was an invited columnist for the leading game industry trade magazine, and was twice invited to the Game Developer’s Conference Advisory Board.

StephenStephen Jacobs is the Associate Director at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Media, Art, Games, Interactivity and Creativity (MAGIC). He designed and built exhibits for the Capital Children’s Museum in the 70′s, ran the AmiEXPO trade shows for the Commodore Amiga in the 80’s, and began teaching at RIT in the 90’s. Most recently he has worked on game and/or narrative design for Just Press Play and Martha Madison’s Marvelous Machines as well as co-developed MindGamers, a bio-feedback game designed to improve treatment outcomes for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Goodcactus smileDr. Johnson-Glenberg received her degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1998. She is  committed to researching and implementing optimal educational designs and practices in new digital media. Her lab called Embodied Games for Learning lab works to understand how virtual and mixed reality systems can affect life-long  learning. She has  a background as a screenwriter, an artist, and as a psychometrician – these disparate skills serve her well as she now leads game design teams that create games and assessment measures for STEM and health content. She is equally committed to translation and strives to scale and disseminate efficacious content (simulations or games) to both formal and informal educational settings. She is very interested in working on impact games for mental health.

LucienVattelLucien Vattel is the CEO and Executive Director of GameDesk, whose purpose is to create a “next generation” model of education, revolutionizing the way we teach and learn. The organization has developed, tested and evaluated next generation digital learning software and curriculum for use in schools, community centers, and homes throughout the United States. He is also Founder & Co-Director of the PlayMaker school, a new approach to the way we teach and learn. GameDesk was listed in 2013 as #6 Most Innovative Education Company in the World by Fast Company, and they recently launched Educade, an AT&T sponsored web-based platform for cutting edge electronic- and game-based learning.

SONY DSCMatt Clausen is currently the Chief Creative Officer & Creative Director at GameDesk Institute. Before that, he was the Art Director for Team Conductor, in the Human Interfaces group at the NASA Jet propulsion Laboratory where he collaborated with Scientists, Programmers and engineers to design interfaces that control robots and spacecraft. He also creates video games, interactive web experiences and 3D animations in an effort to redesign education and learning experiences.

Jan JonkJan Jonk is Co-founder and owner of the gamedesign studio Dreams of Danu. He is an interaction & game developer that produces applied (“serious”) games for healthcare and therapy. The studio has an expertise in developing games that work with biosensors, such as brainwave reading headsets and heart rhythm sensors. These are games that provide players insight into personal psychological processes; players are able to train themselves to enter and remain in states of relaxation or concentration. Other than developing games for consumers, Dreams of Danu works together with research partners in the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMCU) and the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen. Together with their partners, Dreams of Danu examines what biofeedback can mean for different target audiences and how research can inform practical gameplay experiences where patients are able to train themselves through playful interaction.



Rowella Kuijpers is a clinical psychologist. She received her MA in developmental psychology at Radboud University in Nijmegen (1999) and her post-academic clinical degree in 2005. She is currently working on finishing her PhD and is involved in practice based research projects (testing of prevention and intervention programs) with a special interest in anxiety and depression. In addition, Rowella maintains a clinical practice with children in a mental health facility and she teaches clinical courses at the Radboud University in Nijmegen.

Ignace Vermaes studied Special Education Sciences and Business Administration at the Radboud University of Nijmegen Ignace(The Netherlands) and acquired his PhD in Pediatric Psychology at Radboud University Medical Center. He currently manages the R&D department of  Pluryn, one of the largest agencies in The Netherlands providing treatment, care, education and vocational training to young people with severe behavior problems, (mild) intellectual disabilities and/or physical disabilities. Ignace’s motto is: “When the perspectives of these young people  improved dramatically, Ignace was one of the guys who helped it come true.” To his view, scientific insights from positive psychology combined with play and innovative technology have one of the best potentials to create such a breakthrough.