Project Obrigado: Self-Care and Tracking

Alright, enough fun stuff!  Or not, actually.  Speculating and plotting out aspects of my brainchild is fun.  I took a bit of a break because I want to lay out the self-care aspects of the game, but I’m still kind of puzzling over how I want it to work.  I’m still going with the idea of logging activities and having those activities affect your characters Equilibrium/Endurance stats, but its a little hard to nail down what those activities should consist of.  It took me a long time to develop what I’ve got here into complete sentences, partly because its kind of a slippery thing and partly because its been a hard couple weeks.  Work is going really well, but its amazing how simple daily responsibilities can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.  I had a bit of a bad day the other day, narrowly avoiding an irrational crying jag right at my desk.  Tons of fun.

One thing a lot of people with depression struggle with is shame about their emotions.  So before I get into any thoughts about the project I just want to tell anyone who runs across this page that its ok.  Our feelings are real and nothing to be ashamed of just because we can’t find a reason for them.  We can identify our triggers and manage them, but emotions are going to happen.  Sometimes they will happen at the worst possible times, and for completely inexplicable reasons.  But if you take a minute, do something good for yourself that can be as simple as walking outside or texting a friend, and just accept that the feelings are there eventually they won’t seem as bad.  I mean, day before yesterday I got upset because I caught a glimpse of Bob Ross on the TV next to my desk and his painting seemed melancholy to me.  Bob Ross, people.  The Happy Painter.  So anyways, your feelings aren’t bad, they don’t mean you’re crazy.  They’re just feelings.  Moving on.

As I said earlier, the one of the places from whence this mutated idea came is Fitocracy.  But its easy to plug in how far you rode on your bike and how fast you were going to get an approximate “calories burned”.  That doesn’t apply to mental health.  There’s no set litmus test to measure someone’s progress, so the formula of “Thing Done + Difficulty Doing Said Thing = x Amount of Progress” really won’t work unless heavily customized to the user.  When I can find some interested mental health professionals I plan to ask them about this and get help working on some kind of fluctuating metric, but in the meantime I figured I’d jot down some ideas about what this tracking tool will keep track of.

The way I see it, there are two main things a person can do to increase their mental stability and quality of life - positive activities and introspection.  Positive activities are easier to measure so I’ll start with that, and I’ll be using myself as an example to elaborate a bit.  I’ve had a problem with insomnia for a good portion of my life.  Its not as bad as it could be, but it’s something that comes up every once in a while.  Sometimes its just a couple days of only sleeping for an hour or so and then it goes away, but I’ve had solid months where I was getting maybe three hours a night and eventually over the counter sleep aids stopped working on any level.  One thing I know for a fact increases the likelihood of troubled/nonexistent sleep is gaming too late.  So something as simple as entering in what time I put the computer to sleep or turned off the PS3 is something I could get points for.  Even though the turning off of something is kind of a non-activity, by doing so I am putting my long term well-being (getting a good night’s sleep and keeping my body clock running smoothly) over what I want in the short term (pwning more n00bs).  Also, anyone who’s been depressed knows the feeling of just wanting to sit on the couch/lay in bed and blow off every single one of your plans even if said plans are to do something you normally enjoy.  Its part of the deal.  You know in your brain that getting up and doing whatever thing you had planned will probably be fun and make you feel better but you just can’t summon the energy to do it.  Maybe if there was a fancy new special action involved that might be the last bit of encouragement you need to get off the couch.  You could even rate the difficulty on a scale of “Meh, I’m kind of tired” to “All the color has been sucked out of the world and the sidewalk is going to swallow me whole if I so much as step foot outside”.  On the other hand, there’s no guarantee forcing yourself out of the house will help or make things worse.  There are times when forcing yourself to be around people just makes the black hole of your existence feel even more alien and separate from everything.  So tracking positive activities isn’t something I can lay out concretely at this point, but I’m keeping my feelers out for people who have training in this area that might be willing to advise me.

A little easier to pin down as a positive, which isn’t to say its simple, is introspection.  I think there’s enough evidence out there that our psyches are formed by our experiences that I don’t really need to get into a discourse about it.  I don’t believe that people with messed up childhoods are guaranteed to end up depressed or anti-social any more than I believe people with a completely normal upbringing will end up lawyers and healthy family types.  There are so many factors involved, but one common thread is the necessity of examining your experiences and figuring out how they affect you.  Another thing I believe is that medication on its own isn’t enough.  Its true that some of us just have some chemical imbalance that make us sad more often than other people, but humans are creatures of body and spirit with each part affecting the other in turn.  Introspective exercises are something concrete that can be completed for progress by simply filling out a form with a few questions.  An example of an exercise is one I completed recently that just had a few questions:

Think of a situation that triggered your anxiety.  What happened?

Why do you think this situation made you more anxious than normal?  Where do you think those feelings were coming from?

What did you do to deal with the anxiety?

Did it help?

How did you end up reacting to the situation, and how do you think you can do better if something similar happens?

Pretty simple, right?  Answers don’t need to be really long or detailed, but I like the idea of greater rewards for greater effort.  Of course, this would mean evaluation beyond a simple “was the exercise completed” metric.  I’m starting to get the impression the more I think about this is that while an experience-calculating metric will be crucial in the end there will need to be human hands working on evaluating players and their participation.  This means users will have to be alright with others reading what they write.  Granted, the people reading their responses will be professionals under the same confidentiality boundaries any therapist would be, but that could be a hurdle for some people.

That was a little more stream-of-consciousness-ish than I originally intended.  Hopefully it makes a little bit of sense.  I’ve also got news on a possible funding idea.  I’ve said before that if I ever make Project Obrigado a reality it will be free forever.  Free to download, free to play, and completely run on donations.  That’s a daunting prospect, and not something I think can be accomplished by something like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.  While those platforms are really effective, my perception is that they are geared more for a big fundraising push that is finite, whereas this would have to be an ongoing fundraising effort.  While I was setting up my NaNoWriMo profile today (yes, I am doing it despite having a batizado, Dreamforce, and hopefully Korean BBQ in LA to go to in November because I am a crazy person) I came across stayclassy.org.  I actually have a short phone meeting with someone from that organization to talk about my real-job’s fundraising efforts, but I’ll be filing what I can away for later.

Look! Buttons!

Comments

I really like the introspection ideas. I think that most of the "scoring" system for this part of the game might end up being subjective rather than something easy to code into the game. The professional who reads the introspection document(s) might have a guideline, but it'd be customized to the player and based on their needs and previous progress. The positive activities would likely be the same. Maybe even an initial evaluation at the start where the professional draws up a scoresheet for the player and that gets input into the system?

Keep it up!

I don't think mental health can or should be gamified. The shorthand the medium has for addiction and isolation in players is bad enough.

The connections made and the work applied in the pursuit of creating interactive storytelling is vital; people stay in the game industry because they enjoy the people and the work... But you have to remember you are trying to produce a *game*. A game is supposed to be entertaining first-and-foremost.

There is no way to word any of this without sounding mean... Your pitch sounds like an unqualified person attempting to sell a questionnaire software template to doctors. How could this help them in the way a pen, some paper and a conversation couldn't?

There's also the problem of selling a tool disguised as entertainment in the game industry. It'd be like trying to pitch an infomercial as a summer blockbuster. If you produce a game you have to know there's an audience to justify the expense.

More so, I do not think games can solve larger social issues. I think social issues are solved by people who are physically together. You cannot Skype down the Berlin Wall nor overthrow a regime on Tumblr. People meet through games or are inspired by games, but the game itself is inert.

Much like how big pharma works, the misconception in the digital age that "there's an app for that" has transformed into this electronic snake oil mentality. You simply cannot create an Angry Birds that makes a person in the middle of a suicide note want to joyously dance down the street like Joseph Gordon-Levitt. You can program a computer, but you cannot program a person.

In pushing the medium there's really only three ways to advance video games and they all revolve around it's ability to entertain (design, hardware acceleration, story).

The problem of thinking of games as more than entertainment denies how problematic they can be as a drug for people to self-medicate their problems with. If people are depressed they'd do well to pull the plug out of the wall and go live in the real world.

You make some interesting points that I definitely want to address, but sadly what I wrote was too long for the comments, so I'll probably devote a whole post to it. I do appreciate the input and criticism, having people challenge me on things forces me to take other perspectives into account.

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