At-Risk for College Students is a 30-minute online, interactive gatekeeper training simulation designed to prepare university and college students to identify, approach, and refer fellow students exhibiting signs of psychological distress including depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.
Below is a detailed analysis of this game roughly following Brian Winn's1 Design/Play/Experience framework, including:
At-Risk is an interactive gatekeeper training simulation for college students. After training, university and college students will have increased knowledge of:
- The signs of student psychological distress.
- How to communicate with at-risk students and motivate them to seek help.
- How to handle a situation when concerned that a student may plan to harm him or herself.
- Local resources and referral points for at-risk students, including their campus counseling center.
In At-Risk, you play as the avatar Jesse, Jesse has four friends: Taylor, Mike, Anna and Travis who have displayed several abnormal behaviors under four different situations, and then you will be asked which one you are most worried about. There also has a guide Morgan who introduces the whole procedure and gives you helpful advice during the talking to friend part. Once you choose a friend who is at-risk, then you jump to the next level and talk to the friend. In this part, Jesse talks to Travis in his apartment to see what is going on. Player can easily immerse into the game in the polished environment. During the talking, player can choose different response to communicate to Travis. Besides, Morgan will give you advice on your choice. In this process, player can learn different strategies talking to distressed people.
The gameplay in At-Risk is mostly like an immersive conversation. The game is consisting of five parts: introduction, Jesse's friends, the talk, getting help and conclusion. Introduction part mainly talk about negative mood is very common in our daily life and we should pay attention to people in that overwhelmed situation and give them timely help. In Jesse's friends' part, a video shows Jesse has four friends but one of them is in distress. In order to give his friend help, Jesse needs to pay attention to his friends warning signs to realize who is at-risk. The game set four different points in time to let Jesse interact with his friends and observe their behaviors. During this process, you will rate each friend's behavior and decide whether they should be concerned.
After four situations have been played, then you need to choose which friend of Jesse's has a more serious distress that need to give an extra concern. Then Jesse has a talk with Travis to see what's going on. Before the talk begins, the game set a small course teaching you how to talk to a friend about a sensitive topic without making the friend defensive.
In the conversation part, player decides what Jesse should say and ask by using the menu on the left side of the screen. The goal of this part is let Travis know he's concerned and get more information on how Travis is doing. After player selecting a respond, there will be an advice on the bottom of the screen that the guide Morgan gives some comments and advice on your choice. I think in this way, players can learn some strategies how to communicate with people at-risk. If players failed the conversation which means you made inappropriate response and anger your friend, you can replay the game until reach the goal.
After we talk to Travis, we know his situation is bad and getting worse, it's hard for him handle it on his own. Fortunately, there is a counseling center on campus which connects students with professional counselors who can help them meet challenges in students' lives. So the next task is have a talk with Travis and tries to convince him to make an appointment with counseling center. The mechanic is the same as the talk part. If Jesse failed convince Travis to go to the counseling center, there are other options for Jesse, you can click the button 'where to find help' to find other solutions.
The final part is a conclusion which the guide Morgan make a summary of how to know when a friend needs help, how to talk to a friend who is at-risk and where can we go for help.
All the interaction in At-Risk is done with a mouse. Player can click the mouse to select appropriate answer and go into the next game part. The user interface is quite simple and clear. In this way, player can figure out how to play the game faster. And there is no background music, which can let player concentrate on the gameplay more. Besides, the design of menu button is very terse. It is a hidden button, when the mouse stayed on the menu button then the menu will be displayed. Otherwise you can't see this entire menu which makes the interface quite simple and clear.
At-Risk flagship technology is the award-winning Human Interaction Game Engine, which is based on research in social cognition, neuroscience, and motivational interviewing. The engine enables Kognito to author and deliver virtual practice environments where learners engage in role-play conversations with intelligent, fully animated and emotionally responsive avatars that act and respond like real humans, thereby replicating real life interactions. The graphics are simple, clear and realism which let player focuses on the conversation and necessarily to serve the learning goals. If I have an extra budget, I will create a 3D environment which can let player better immerse into the game.
There is a formal assessment from a National Study at 35 Leading Universities & Colleges in the U.S. The study included 944 college students at 35 institutions. 43% subjects were assigned to the experimental group and 57% were assigned to the control group. Participants in both groups were provided with an online questionnaire that captured responses utilizing a four-point likert scale. The experimental group completed the At-Risk training and then responded to the questionnaire while the control group only completed the questionnaire. Study results were analyzed using independent sample t-tests. The study found that participants in the experimental group rated significantly higher their preparedness to : 1. Identify behaviors associated with fellow students' psychological distress 2. Approach fellow students exhibiting signs of psychological distress 3. Motivate fellow students exhibiting signs of psychological distress to seek help 4. Refer fellow students exhibiting signs of psychological distress. Participants in the experimental group also reported significantly higher levels of confidence in their ability to help a suicidal student seek help.
At-Risk does a really good job to reach its learning goals. It significantly increases students' ability to identify, approach, and refer fellow students exhibiting signs of psychological distress including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. According to the assessment results, students who complete At-Risk are more confident in their ability to help a suicidal student and are significantly more likely to intervene when faced with such a student. In my point of view, At-Risk is a highly engaging learning experience and provides a realistic environment for practice interacting with at-risk students.
There is a small issue I think can be improved is that no matter how I rate the Jesse's friends, I can only choose Travis to talk to in the latter conversation part. I think we can make a multiply choices for player to choose whom to talk to which can make the game more interactive and free.
- Winn, Brian. The Design, Play and Experience Framework. In R. Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2009, pp. 388-401.
- Iuppa, Nick & Borst, Terry. End-To-End Game Development.
- Kognito. Results from a National Study at 35 Leading Universities & Colleges in the U.S.