Playing The Mental Health Game
One in 10 teenagers in the UK have a mental health diagnosis, with male teenagers being the hardest to reach through conventional channels and also among the most likely to take their own life as a result of depression.
How can we find a fresh route to connect with and help those people most at risk? And do that in a way that feels relevant and meaningful? That’s the challenge that mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness set us.
Explaining The Unexplainable
Starting the conversation is easy, most teenagers are good at talking about their feelings to some extent. To get a balanced perspective we also worked through academic research and conducted interview sessions with people who had personal experience of depression. From that we realised that although the right conversations were happening, teenagers still didn’t have a good understanding of the reality of mental health issues or the stigmas that surround them.
Partly that’s down to how hard it is to have a truly meaningful conversation about mental health. It’s hard for people to convey the impact of conditions such as depression, and there’s a point beyond which teenagers are reluctant to go beyond for fear of being labelled.
That’s where interactivity and games can open up new routes to exploring the issues and stigmas that surround teenage mental health.
A Game With Purpose
We ran workshops with teenagers to explore how an interactive story could be a gritty and relevant way of immersing them in a world where they could feel free to explore behaviours. We wanted to allow them to see the impact of their decisions on someone’s mental health without any real life consequence. What we call a ‘sandbox‘.
The Kid & I characters and styling were developed collaboratively with teenagers
Together we built characters and a storyline that would impart a view of the stigmas of mental health and how everyday decisions make a big impact on individuals. We expanded on that premise by exploring how friends and teachers can be both a positive and a negative influence.
The result is The Kid and I, a game with purpose.
The Kid & I is a game with purpose that’s being used in schools to start a conversation around depression and the stigmas associated with it.
Creating A Meaningful Experience
The Kid and I is an interactive story with strong game elements. It follows our fictional character, John Wood, through what he had hoped would be a normal day at school. Over three acts, players can make decisions that affect the way John sees himself and the way others react to him. They can help put a stop to the stigma he experiences.
The Kid & I’s main character is John, but players can see new perspectives by playing as other characters
Playing as John Wood allows people to see how his mental health problems come to impact his life in a major way. But we needed to go further than that. So we allowed players to become other characters too. They can see the effect John’s friends have on him by playing as supportive or antagonistic characters. And how John’s teacher tries to give him a more positive outlook on life, helping him be less isolated and avert the most serious impact that depression can have.
The Black Dog highlights the challenges that social networks hold for many teenagers
Driving The Kid and I is a complex branching story structure that’s both ambitious and challenging in its implementation. With hundreds of decision points and many outcomes, this depth can be explored through a simple game interface, making The Kid and I accessible to the people on whom we most want to make an impact.
Starting An Important Conversation
The Kid and I is a product that’s being used in schools to start positive conversations with teenagers about their mental health and explore how together we can break the stigmas that surround it. It represents an innovative step forward in how we deal with one of the most serious health issues that affects teenagers today.