a companion application for grief therapy patients
Ponder is a mobile application that encourages daily self-reflection practices for individuals coping with grief. Each post unlocks an item, creating an artifact from the mourning process.
For this project focused on ideation and ideation methods, our team was tasked with creating a design for a mobile application that gamified behavior change.
Designing for behavior change was defined as design which is done to impact positive behavior in a personal, social or environmental way. The final concept could either be a mobile game or a gamified mobile application. Jonathan Bergeron, lead user researcher at EA-PopCap Games, worked with us during the quarter, attending critiques and giving us real-world game industry insights.
We created Ponder, a mobile application encouraging self-reflection and providing support for grief therapy patients outside of sessions.
At the start of our process, we identified consistent self-reflection as the behavior we wanted to encourage. As we refined our concepts and conducted additional research, we understood the need to frame these self-reflection practices with a more focused context.
We viewed self-reflection as a potentially powerful tool for self improvement, especially for those dealing with emotional hardship. We found that various emotional hardships somehow related to loss, so we chose to focus specifically grief.
Game Design and Behavior Change
Game design inherently involves some kind of behavioral influence on players, whether it's targeted towards initially grabbing their attention or sustaining it over a longer period of time (sometimes in an addictive cycle!). Behavior change is most effective when it begins with scoped, actionable tasks and can be sustained over time.
Paired together, gamification and behavior change are a powerful tool for helping individuals adopt positive behaviors.
Our research on game design and behavior theories led us to the guiding principle of Games as a Representation of Self. Many successful games keep players engaged by providing a level of immersion wherein they feel connected to the game. In the context of behavior change, this is a useful tool for supporting a user’s behavior change journey through game interactions. The following two game design principles led our ideation phase.
The Magic Mirror Effect
Players tend to see their actions in games as reflections of their actions in real life. Players feel they bring the same morals and values they hold in real life to the choices they make in a game.
Players must feel that their actions are directly related to an outcome. The accelerated pace of a a game gives us the opportunity to visibly show even incremental progress.
From Visual to Conceptual
In order to consider a variety of solutions, we approached ideation with the notion of divergent then convergent ideas. To do this, we used a variety of ideation methods ranging from highly visual to more conceptual, depending on the phase of the process.
Early ideation focused on divergent ideas and relied more heavily on free-form visual techniques such as sketching methods and mind-mapping. Later ideation focused on convergent ideas and relied on more structured refining techniques such as a version of IDEO's "mash up" and grouping and categorizing concepts. These led to three preliminary concepts.
Game Landscape as Self
In this concept, players explore a landscape that is representative of their inner self. Each area must be “healed” or cultivated using gathered resources and allotting these resources to be used in a variety of areas. Players can add new areas of interest to explore (new interests, places for improvement, etc) and use progress in the game to inspire progress in real life.
Game Character as Self
Logging and keeping track of one’s moods and emotions can also enable analysis and identi cation of trends in one’s behavior. This concept uses the game to encourage these behaviors by giving players direct outcomes. For example, the game can prompt the player daily to log their mood, resulting in a related effect on the abilities of their avatar in the game.
MMORPG for Communication Skills
Players build relationships in the game that allow for therapeutic interaction, mentoring and self- improvement. They share experiences and skills to unlock new levels. By creating a space in which the players can externalize their interpersonal communication, they can see themselves from a different perspective to and areas for self improvement.
After some difficulty choosing a single concept, we realized we needed to narrow our scope and define clearer ties between the mechanism of our game, and a real-world behavior. In addition, because self-reflection could be used in many ways that depended largely on the individual, we needed to focus our idea on a specific scenario. By targeting a problem that would benefit from self- re ection, we could believably show how our solution could help somebody without generalizing or being overly prescriptive.
Self-Reflection as a Tool for Coping with Grief
In our secondary research, self-reflection was identified as a tool for helping people analyze their patterns of behavior, cope with negative thoughts and avoid rumination. To contextualize self-reflection practices, we considered various types of emotional hardship from divorce and substance abuse to loss of a job and grief. We found that in many of these cases, because the core of the pain is loss, the coping methods were modeled on that of the grieving process. We felt that grief, although a difficult and sensitive topic, could be a strong initial emotional hardship to target.
We began by looking at the Kübler-Ross model of five stages of grief to provide some structure to the highly personal process of grief. However, not all individuals experience these linearly (or at all). We found the six needs of mourning, a framework by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, to be more suitable for understanding and responding to the needs of a grieving person.
Future and Focus
Therapy patients dealing with grief may be struggling to imagine their future without the loved one they have lost. The process of grief is one of rebuilding your life. To that end, we wanted our application to provide a sense of focus in the form of daily, actionable tasks.
Though it is normal to think about one's loss, it is important to avoid rumination. By externalizing thoughts regularly, those who are grieving can unburden themselves from consuming thoughts. In addition, they are able to track the evolution of their emotions over time.
Although grief is a difficult process that never truly ends, the hope is that someday the individual who is grieving can begin to remember the person they have lost in memories that are joyful, rather than painful. Creating a place to store and revisit memories for later was another important concept.
Mapping the Experience
In order to not trivialize the serious experience of grief, it was important for us to understand how an application could serve as a helpful support tool for therapy, rather than being viewed as a cure or self-help method. We drew out a map of a patient's experience with therapy, and how an application could serve as a support tool in conjunction with sessions. We wanted to emphasize that this tool was to be used in conjunction with a therapist, so we included the therapist's role in the journey as well.
a mobile application that works in tandem with therapy sessions to create a space for self-reflection
assists with externalizing thoughts outside of sessions and use them to generate discussion in upcoming ones
people currently seeing a therapist to cope with the loss of a loved one
Focus and Future-Thinking
Daily Goal Setting
Consistent reflection in written, photo or audio formats
Receive "items" that cultivate a growing virtual world and are tied to one's reflections
Once our wireframes were finalized we created high-fidelity UIs and a click-through prototype. The prototype can be viewed here.
Animated prototype by Emi MacLeod
Understanding Contexts of Use
Applications and technology tools do not exist in a vacuum. As is the case with this concept, it is important to understand not just how users will complete a series of tasks in an application, but how the tool will be embedded into the other activities of their daily lives. For us, this meant understanding how a tool like this might have a supporting role within the structure of therapy.
Research Is Never Over
Beginning with secondary research was necessary, but applying the notions of convergent and divergent thinking to this phase helped us methodically define our problem space. By starting by exploring our topic areas broadly, we were able to understand the foundational theories of games and behavior change as well as define the potential areas of interest for our project. We also saw firsthand that research is an ongoing process, as concepts become more focused and require further context and specificity. Given more time, we would have conducted some expert interviews with counselors and interviews with patients.
Our ideation phase was also a place where a structured process of convergence and divergence was the hidden “method to the madness.” I previously associated ideation with loose, unorganized brainstorming, and although this was at times the case, there were also a number of structured activities that helped move the process along and facilitated decision-making. Exploring both unstructured and more rigid ideation methods and understanding when to use each is a key lesson to apply in future projects.