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City game helps with forensic mental health rehabilitation

'Serious game' provides a platform to support service users preparing for discharge

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

An innovative serious game has been developed by academics and a student at City University London in collaboration with service users and providers at East London NHS Foundation Trust.

The game applied a computer game engine which is used to develop serious games for professional learning into a tool that enables forensic mental health service users to explore challenging situations and practice skills in a virtual environment prior to discharge from secure settings. Forensic mental health service users are people with mental health problems who have committed serious offences.

The serious game provides a novel approach for forensic mental health services to experience decision making and respond to scenarios in the community such as being offered drugs and alcohol.

Dr Lisa Reynolds, the principal investigator for the study said: “The idea behind the game was to provide a platform to support service user preparation for discharge by practicing the challenging scenarios they face in their everyday lives. The prototype game was developed with, trialled and evaluated by service users and providers and we found that there was confidence that a serious game would be a useful tool.”

In this small scalel feasibility study the team tested the usability of the game with six men in an inner city low secure forensic mental health service which offers a rehabilitation service. These secure units are an alternative to prison for people who have a mental health problem and offer specialist treatment and care.

Paul Hodge, a professional serious games designer and a student on the Master in Human-Centred Systems at City University London (https://www.city.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/human-centred-systems), developed the prototype game partnership with service users. The latter contributed realistic dialogue and scenarios and ensured that the environment and language used was all realistic for each given situation.

“The lingo, like the action, was correct, the slang terms, everything was correct…that’s how they are going to approach you,” said one service user, with another praising the project and saying that he would “like to do it in a session; a psychology session”.

Speaking about the future of the game, Dr Reynolds said: “As a team we hope to obtain further funding so that we can continue to improve the game. Additional work is needed to develop greater complexity and promote usability. We hope that in the future serious games can be used to help people prepare to live more independently.”

Dr Bradley Mann, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist from Wolfson House involved in the project, said:

"Discharge into the community can be challenging and difficult time for service users, this game provides an innovative approach to support their rehabilitation. Working with the service users and academics we have been able to develop a valuable and practical tool that can give patients the confidence and skills on their road to recovery."

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.