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Digital Game Development: Strengths Based

A group of young people from around the UK with complex health needs, have been leading on a project to co- design and produce a new 2D online/ Facebook computer game, inspired by theirs and other young peoples lives.

The game is being built around interests, hobbies and life stories, difficulties and obstacles that need to be overcome, as well as transition from one experience or service to another. The game will feature characters in wheelchairs with equipment the young people require on a daily basis; such as hoists, ventilators etaim


To understand and amplify the experiences of young people with complex health needs through a digital platform.

Background: Co - Production
7 young people form the core of the project; their views and expertise has been central to the design of the game. They have met to view existing games and discuss strengths and weaknesses of each, expectations, as well as to decide the target audience, direction, purpose and function of the game, disability access and aesthetics.

The project is being co- produced with the young people and 2 leading games designers developing the mechanics and design of the game, alongside a PSW associate who has been collecting the stories that the game is being built around.

When the game attracts the funding required to go into production, 5 young people from the core team will be supported to co- produce the game:
• Music production
• Graphic design
• Film/ animation
• Clothing design

They will be fully supported by the designers and the Excellence Programme that helped support initial creative career and business development through 1-1 coaching.

Three main themes, illustrated in the stories captured being developed will form the 3 levels for the initial game phase 1:

• The lives and experiences of young people with complex health needs as ‘real’ teenagers and young people; needs, desires, wants, leisure, aspirations

• Barriers that are a daily occurrence such as access

• Daily lives; e.g. using a hoist

Other themes will be developed as funding becomes available and these will respond to player’s interests and personal stories, such as travel- a difficulty experienced by most young people.

Players can choose their own characters and preliminary ideas are to include a photomontage of the player themselves in the creation of the character, in a graphical environment. Players have options to ‘bling’ their chairs to give them more power- such as hover.

Strengths Based
Characters will earn ‘Character Strengths’ (As opposed to coins or stars- experienced in most games) when they ‘win’ aspects of the game, such as negotiating access to a shop. The character strengths will build as the player navigates through barriers, and may be used to access certain levels of the game. For example, a character may require determination to journey through an obstructive shop. The character strengths used area based on psychologically tested VIA strengths developed by Dr. M Seligman .

Players can choose strengths or access the VIA web link to discover their own top 5 strengths to use as the character to start with.

• Simple to play and simple to pick up
• Random, engaging, fun
• Reasons to return and play again
• Twists that keep players guessing
• Downfalls that catch you out
• Socialized scoring (Feedback mechanism)
• Collaborative, multi use/ single use
• Skills levels
• Needs to appeal to casual gamers rather than hardcore gamers, to give broad appeal.
• A ‘real’ game and not one with obvious therapeutic aesthetics

Target Audience
Age range: 11+, male and female

• Education
• For siblings/ family to ‘play’ and learn together to trigger dialogue that may support understanding from all perspectives
• As a therapeutic tool to activate/ enable dialogue between young person and carer/ professional
• For people to understand the lived experience of the young people
• For young people to see the circle of support around them
• For young people to network together and have fun
• For people to play and enjoy

The game may
• Change perceptions
• Inspirational- give hope
• Raise awareness and challenge pre- conceptions of what the young people can do (artist, footballer, music producer) as well as challenges faced

A promo video has been made, outlining the ethos of the project, together with some snapshot ideas of the potential game. It can be viewed at:

A blog site set up collects the views of young people and the general public on game ideas and development. It is also a forum to communicate and share discussions about the journey of the game and a place to present images and designs. Posts to date have come from the UK and the USA:

A Facebook and twitter account has also been set up to begin to market the game and begin to attract potential interest and funding: 

Secure funding to take the game to a full working prototype that could attract funding to launch the game.

Self- sustaining: the game will be designed so it generates income (players ‘buy’ aspects of the game such as clothing, shelter)


High Viz Event, Bury St Edmunds 24/4/2012


Playing the Game- what’s life like?

A workshop for young people with complex health needs and life limiting conditions, their families, carers and professionals, to take part in activities to inform the development of the Strengths Game….

1. View PPT with outline of the game so far
2. Play existing games and comment on the style, so that these can inform our game
3. Create a character for the game
4. General ideas sheet

Character Development
• Informed by strengths
• What could a character look like? Colours, textures, shape, human, abstract
• Should it import own faces? What about the issue of illness, moving away?
• Using collage and mixed media
• Use of strengths cards: Pick out 3 strengths they felt the character could own at the start of the game

Start off owning 3 character strengths, then wins more in order to complete the game. Needs particular strengths in order to navigate different aspects of the game

You create a character for the game and save it- you can photomontage your own face. It goes into the public domain when you play others (you have control of when it gets seen- thus if you stop playing your character is not present)

Characters each have an ‘angel/ butterfly; as their guide through the game

Character 1
A Butterfly
Have strengths of:
• Appreciation of Beauty
• Gratitude
• Fairness and forgiveness

Character 2
A dog
Has character strengths of:
• Curiosity (interest in the world)
• Vitality (Zest, Passion, Energy)
Humour (playfulness)

Character 3
An Animal- player chooses which animal/ pet they want to be
The more unusual the pet, the more qualities/ skills they have
The animals:
Chinchilla, Bearded dragon, Snake
Rabbit, tortoise, hamster/ gerbil, guinea pig
Goldfish, tropical fish
Parrot, budgie
Cat, kitten
Dog, puppy

Character 4
A large shoe
• Persistence
• Teamwork

An ideas sheet captured general thoughts:
General ideas
Suggested name- Playing the Game

Challenges around managing carers or something similar. Resolving issues, creating boundaries, communication etc

Using your character strengths to achieve tasks/ challenges/ win things- going towards independent living skills

Maybe consult with games design companies to ask where are the ‘disabled games?”

IPhone/ android platform- better interface for 2D platform game than a bigger screen/ PC/Mac. E.g., Code masters, “Dizzy “games, re- released on iPhone

Useful to think of designing with ipad, as it is easier to manoeuvre than pens, paints

Falling off cliff edge- being caught/ bungee/ stepping stones of people’s heads (that have helped you) e.g. family, individuals, friends, professionals, champions)-personalise these with photos

Access to buildings in game e.g. if in wheelchairs, can the character fly/ teleport, be able to pick up or win equipment

Realistic- wheels and equipment so players gain a sense of what needs to be carted around on a daily basis.

Physical interface for accessing game for those who are/ have more imitated physical ability needs to be considered

People were asked to try out 4 games that young people had suggested may be inspiring for the development of our game: Journey, Limbo, Little Big Planet, audio surf, then asked to respond to the following:

• What did you like about the game you just played?
• What didn’t you like about the game you just played
• What bits of the game do you think would be good in our game?
• What feelings/ emotions do the games evoke
• Are there any experiences you have had or anecdotes you could share that could inform the game?

What did you like about the game you just played?
Great Graphics, Easy to follow, learn
No negatives
Key board- good
Like the monochrome
Wanted the character to survive
Wanted to explore
Simple pleasing graphics

What didn’t you like about the game you just played
Restrictive- couldn’t do much

Little Big Planet
Need to have reasonable dexterity (PS controls)

What did you like about the game you just played?
Simple. easy to follow and play
Prefer the character to that of a human figure
Need to stop and read instructions- good learning curve
Character is very cute!
Light hearted and no bits of bodies
Simple game to start with for collaborative play as sometimes the illness is the common denominator connecting people

What didn’t you like about the game you just played
Aimed at quite young people/ children
Getting used to the hand set
Game too simplistic
Scoring hard to understand at the start
Need to be able to personalise/ customise
Everything on the screen could have a meaning or use


Audio Surf
Game should be available on more formats

What did you like about the game you just played?
Simple controls are good

What didn’t you like about the game you just played
The game seems too bland in terms of background and scenery

Emotions it evoked…
‘Can’t do it!’ – it looks like my worse fears of a computer game!

What did you like about the game you just played?
Beautiful game
Like the 3D effect
The eerie feel was intriguing
Great visuals, although sometimes wonder what to do next

Calm and contemplation, quite meditative- non threatening, or competitive- god for relaxing as opposed to many games that build adrenaline. Like the character didn’t injure themselves.

What didn’t you like about the game you just played
Wasn’t sure what you needed to do and just seemed to wander. I would get bored of this if it wasn’t clear what I was meant to do
Controls are too complex

Emotions it evoked…
Frustrated as not enough action

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