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St. John Fisher College and RIT Faculty and Students Team up to Create Therapeutic Game


A team of students and faculty from St. John Fisher College and Rochester Institute of Technology is designing and building a groundbreaking therapeutic computer game to help young people improve their everyday skills in self-control.

Dr. Robert Rice, assistant professor in Fisher's Mental Health Counseling Program, will be working with RIT game design and development students Ivy Ngo, Kenneth Stewart, and John McDonald; Dr. Laurence Sugarman, director of the Center for Applied Psychophysiology and Self-Regulation, RIT; and Stephen Jacobs, associate professor of RIT's School of Interactive Games and Media.

The game starts with assessments that help the players learn about and describe their anxieties and repetitive behavior by turning the players into game characters. Using physiological sensors that are built into the game hardware, players then learn how to monitor the physiological manifestations of anxiety and stress, or what is commonly called their "fight or flight" response. Finally, the players use those same sensors as controllers to move themselves through the game by monitoring and controlling their characters and the stress responses they represent.

"The game was inspired by clients and will involve client input and feedback throughout the development process," says Rice.

Sugarman says games involving physiological health are newly emerging, yet none combines aspects of assessment, cognitive behavioral therapy, and biofeedback in a creative and customizable setting. This game allows a unique extension of the therapist's role that provides a fun, engaging platform for therapeutic change, while collecting data on psychophysiological change.

"The use of physiological controllers in a personalized game platform allows us to help our patients help themselves in a new way," says Sugarman.

The development team expects to use the prototype for clinical trials this fall, prior to developing it for a broader use.

Initial funding for the project comes from an Accelerated Research Program grant from RIT's Office of the Vice President for Research. Mind Media B.V., which specializes in physiological monitoring and feedback products and solutions for researchers, clinicians and health-care professionals, has loaned hardware and software used in this project.


(Pictured from back to front and from left to right: Dr. Laurence Sugarman, Dr. Robert Rice, Kenneth Stewart, Stephen Jacobs, John McDonald and Ivy Ngo.)

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