Replay Project: A Gaming Platform for social reintegration (REPLAY Project)

Published on: 19/02/2010
Document

Interactive gaming technology is hugely popular amongst young people today: the vision of REPLAY is to use this technology as a means of motivating young people into a better awareness of how and why they behave the way they do and encourage them to take greater responsibility for the consequences of their decisions and behaviour.

REPLAY uses video game technology to provide young people who are at risk of becoming marginalised as a result of anti-social behaviour with an interactive learning environment.The REPLAY game is not, in itself, a therapy; the technology provides the teacher/professional in charge of  monitoring and assisting their rehabilitation with a useful tool through which the rehabilitation process can be assessed and managed more effectively.

The REPLAY game focuses on creating a highly interactive and engaging environment within which players react to their surroundings, face dilemmas and make moral choices.The game content (the activities embedded in the game) focuses on understanding the values and motivations of the player in relation to a series of tasks. The activities are not designed as tests with a right or wrong answer; they have been rather developed to address and explore emotional reactions like empathy and to look at concepts like consequential thinking. In doing so, the content activities provide a context for a discussion within which specific aspects of the player’s responses can be explored.

This exploration happens during the ‘REPLAY’ phase of the game: following the completion of a game ‘run’ (within which the player has been in control and has reacted to a series of activity challenges) the teacher/expert sitting with the player takes control and replays the activities (and the player responses) back to the player. At this stage, discussions ensue around the reasons particularly options have been taken. This discussion is a significant opportunity to explore and better understand the issues that player is facing in relation to their behaviour. It is also, to an extent, an opportunity to explore more therapeutic aims.

Description of target users and groups

Target users are children from 10 to 14 years that are at risk of becoming marginalised as a result of antisocial behaviour (ASB). REPLAY is an early intervention support tool to be used in preventive ASB programmes in schools and in re-education programmes in specific centres for young offenders.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The gaming platform, consisting of a videogame (software) and an interactive balance board as a primary user interface, will be installed in schools and run as a part  of preventive anti-social behaviour programmes, as well as in day centres for youngsters involved in re-education programmes and is conceived as a support tool for professionals (i.e social workers). The teachers, social workers and professionals working in these programmes, manage the gaming platform in terms of content, gaming sessions, review of answers and selection of the educational activities included in the game, etc.

The implementation is carried out jointly with the school or centre and the Public Administration is a key component for the success of REPLAY, promoting its use in schools and Youth Centres and acquiring the gaming platform to support and improve the preventive and re-educative programmes in schools and centres.

All end user centres have been fully engaged in the game development as well as the testing and validation. Significant training is also given and ongoing technical support is available to ensure the effective running of all gaming sessions. Testing has passed through a number of phases to ensure the initiative works on both practical and pedagogical level: before the gaming sessions begun, all end user centres have spent considerable time pre-testing the platform and the contents to ensure that when young people come to play the game, the game itself is pitched at the right level in terms of playability and the content is calibrated correctly for the specific user groups being tested. Significant feedback mechanisms have been put in place to ensure any issues arising from the early testing sessions can be addressed quickly, thereby ensuring that testing is not held up or results diminished in any way. Communication between end user testing centres and the game developers is managed centrally via project partners to ensure the technological success of the project.

There are a number of interrelated success factors which will influence the project result. In the first place, the key challenge is to ensure that consistent testing and validation is carried out in the three end user testing centres. For this, a robust methodology has been developed and communicated to all participants. Secondly, the technology solution presents the possibility for many problems in terms of effective running of the game in each centre. Were any of the main component technologies to fail, the testing and validation will suffer. To counteract this, significant pre-testing has taken place within each testing centre and open communication channels set up between the testing practitioners on the one hand, and the game developers on the other. Finally, it is vital that the testing and validation of the product generates usable and meaningful data that can be implemented into the next version of the game prior to commercialisation. This will be achieved through careful implementation of feedback mechanisms via the main project partners and through a close analysis of the collated data.

Technology solution

The Replay project seeks to leverage the popularity and involvement of video gaming to create a tool that helps experts to understand and address anti-social behaviour. We have created a 3D environment, and have developed an interactive play ‘board' that enables the player to travel at speed through a futuristic world, against the clock. Interspersed with the ‘play elements', are a series of embedded activities that have been developed within a sound pedagogical framework and that focus on the values and decision making of the player. Every activity has to be completed before the player can continue.

Having completed this highly playable game, and all embedded activities, the application moves into Replay mode. This allows the expert sitting alongside the player to discuss the specific responses the player gave to each activity and creates the opportunity for an open and honest dialogue about values and behaviours.

The main Technologies developed and integrated in the REPLAY Gaming Platform are:

  • 3D Immersive Video Game integrating multimedia content/activities related to anti-social behaviour;
  • Interactive and wireless balance board (‘human joystick') to control the game play;
  • Range of interaction systems for playing sessions (wireless board, PAD, Joystick, keyboard, etc...);
  • Mark Recognition system to enrich the interaction with the system and increase the playability and engagement of young people.
Technology choice: Proprietary technology

Main results, benefits and impacts

The primary stakeholders in the REPLAY project (beyond the project partners) are the end users. As the project is currently in the middle of the testing phase, the impact on these end users will not be fully known until all results from this process have been collated and analysed. However, we do have some early indications of how the project may have an impact on the work of teachers and professionals working with marginalised young people and, as a consequence, what the impact may be on those young people.

First of all, the evidence suggests that the REPLAY tool will become a valuable part of anti-social behaviour programmes; there are very few similar products in the market. Furthermore, the financial costs of developing highly immersive video games are minor when compared to the ones for the development of this sort of niche games. By focussing on addressing anti-social behaviour and creating a genuinely playable, immersive game, REPLAY has the potential to bring significant value to all professionals working with marginalised young people across the world. The potential of the technology to let young people express themselves and to create a genuinely ‘youth friendly’ context in normally difficult discussion fields is already proven. By creating this environment and by providing the appropriate follow-up tools, young people at risk of being marginalised due to their behaviour can be helped onto a more positive path. Their own engagement in the gaming experience has already been proved.

For the project partners, the technology creates a number of positive opportunities for further development and for future commercialisation. The gaming platform itself has been built in a modular way to facilitate easy replacement of content and activities. This means that many different versions of the game can be developed cheaply and quickly therefore opening up a huge range of market opportunities beyond the behavioural sector (some of which are already being explored). If the principle of creating a highly playable, immersive gaming environment into which high value pedagogical content is implanted can be proved within the REPLAY project (and early indications suggest that this has been proved), there are many other application areas that can be explored including games for autistic children, language-learning games, soft-skills games and so on. In addition, the project has also created a ‘human joystick’ which increases the immersion of the player in the game by adding a physical element to the game play. This human joystick can also be used in conjunction with other games and on other platforms and therefore represents a further benefit to the project partners.

Return on investment

Return on investment: €5,000,000-10,000,000

Track record of sharing

The Replay project will be a first experience applying serious games as a preventive tool in Anti Social Behaviour programmes in schools and re-education centres. This could be a reference for other initiatives related to the use of videogames to support preventative programmes and therapies with young people at risk to be marginalised.

Lessons learnt

Although the market for so-called ‘serious games’ has grown rapidly over recent years, there is still much to learn about what makes a successful educational game.

The dynamic between the immersion and playability of the game and the didactic content embedded is critical in the success of a game like REPLAY. Furthermore, the game itself needs to be pitched at a level that the player feels is both hard enough to be a challenge and easy enough to complete. In addition, a game like REPLAY will not be played continuously or for long periods of time by the player, designed, as it is, to be played in collaboration with a teacher or professional as part of a wider behavioural programme. This makes it fundamentally different (as a game) from the sorts of games that young people are used to play and that are based, predominantly, on the assumption that the player will have many hours if not days to master the different stages of the game. Finally, developing a game for implementation into an educational or rehabilitation context creates a number of practical challenges that need to be taken into account if the game is to become a successful commercial application.

With all this in mind, the main lessons learnt from the REPLAY project are as follows:

  • Young people have a very high ‘game literacy’ – for any serious game to be successful on any level, it needs to approximate in terms of game play and immersion the sorts of games young people are used to play with. It is too easy to lose the game element and just be left with the serious element. If this happens, engagement in the game will disappear.
  • Finding the right level, in terms of playability and the difficulty of the content, is critical in the success of a serious game. If the game is either too easy or too hard, the player will quickly lose interest (if the game is too easy) or become demoralised (if the game is too hard). The best solution to this, within the REPLAY context, is to ensure that the game can be pre-configured both in terms of content and playability, for the specific player who is about to play (and that this configuration can be changed quickly in accordance with the player’s ability).
  • A game of this sort, that will not be played for long or very frequently, needs to be designed with this in mind. This means that the set-up and scenario need to be immediately engaging without being too complex, the goals of the game needs to be easily articulated and the basic functions of the game need to be easily mastered. The time available for each player to learn how to play the game will be short so they need to be able to engage and become proficient quickly.
  • The pressures within the context of behavioural programmes in schools and rehabilitation centres are significant in terms of time, resources, budget and, sometimes, technology. Therefore, any final product designed for this market needs to be developed with the realities of the market in mind. It is, for example, highly unlikely that an individual student within a school context will be able to receive more than an hour one-to-one attention from a member of the staff within a given time period. Much of the behavioural work that is done within this context happens in groups. REPLAY is designed to be run one-to-one. Therefore, if we are to end up with a fully implementable commercial product, we need to develop REPLAY with a clear understanding of the practical factors that will, in the end, govern any purchase within an educational institution.

 

Scope: International, Pan-European