VERVE: Vanquishing fear and apathy through E-inclusion* (VERVE)

Published on: 01/11/2013

*Full title: VERVE: Vanquishing fear and apathy through E-inclusion: Personalised and populated Realistic Virtual Environments for clinical, home and mobile platform

VERVE is a research project that aims to develop new technologies to support the treatment of people who are at risk of social exclusion, either because of a neurological disorder, or because of fear and apathy associated with ageing.

The VERVE project will develop ICT tools to support the treatment of these people. These tools will be in the form of personalised Virtual Reality (VR) scenarios and serious games specifically designed for therapeutic targets and made broadly available via a novel integration of interactive 3D environments directly into Web browsers. The project will perform cutting edge research into rendering and simulating personalised and populated VR environments, 3D web graphics, and serious games. These technical efforts will be underpinned by clinical/laboratory and industry partners and in liaison with the stakeholders (i.e. participants, carers/family and health professionals).

The project will test the VERVE interventions in three use-cases, each targeting a different group of participants: Fear of falling, Apathy related to cognitive decline and behavioural disturbances, and other emotional disturbances linked to anxiety.

Policy Context

VERVE is funded by the EC under the FP7-ICT programme.

Description of target users and groups

As the number of older adults grows worldwide, so too does the cost of health care. People live longer, but do not necessarily enjoy the same quality of life.

VERVE is investigating ways to help adults, young adults and old, to cope with fear, apathy and anxieties, by using a combination of new and existing scientific methods and computer technologies. Specifically it is hoped to help older people at risk of falling, persons with Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s disease and memory problems, as well as those with phobias.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The VERVE project is investigating how three specific User Needs can be met by applying advances in Science & Technology through a number of specific Scenarios:

  • User Needs – the requirement to alleviate fear, apathy and anxiety-related disorders in elderly and vulnerable patients
  • Science and Technology – the scientific techniques and computer technologies that can be applied to address the user need
  • Scenarios – the tools and games that comprise the tangible outputs of the VERVE research programme

The clinical partners in VERVE have identified a number of Scenarios to apply the science and technology that is being researched. These Scenarios relate to one of three challenges: fear, apathy (for sufferers of Dementia and Alzheimer’s) and anxieties. The Scenarios are:

  1. Fear of Falling (Overcoming Fear)
  2. Freezing of Gait (Overcoming Fear) (a debilitating symptom of Parkinson’s disease).
  3. Kitchen & Cooking (Overcoming Apathy)
  4. Memory Motivation Virtual Experience (MeMoVE) (Overcoming Apathy)
  5. Dog Phobia (Overcoming Anxieties)
  6. Crowds (Overcoming Anxieties)

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Behind the scenes VERVE is pushing forward the boundaries of research to answer a key question: How can serious games and virtual environments be created that are effective and that will help the target users?

The answer – and the focus of the VERVE research– centres on a number of important factors: making it fun, making it believable and knowing if it makes a difference.

Virtual Humans

Believable Communications – More than just words

Words are not everything. Nonverbal behaviour plays a crucial role in communicating the overall message. CNRS is pioneering ways to make avatars (the computer-generated characters in the serious games) more believable by conveying emotions, such as showing empathy to game participants by mirroring facial expressions, eye contact and other non-verbal cues.

Realistic appearance – Beauty is only skin deep

Another aspect of realism is the emotions that we convey through our faces. UNIZAR is leading the way in giving avatars skin texture that looks real and that reinforces the body language through skin colouring, such as reddening of the skin to show strong emotions.

Virtual crowds – Two’s company, three’s a crowd

Trinity College Dublin is investigating how larger groups of people interact and how serious games can model realistic crowd behaviour, looking at how the behaviour of one member of the crowd affects the others.

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Clinical Evaluations

Neural & behavioural assessments

The VERVE clinical partners involved in each scenario will evaluate the effectiveness of the serious games by comparing participants’ performance on a battery of clinical and neuropsychological measures before and after a certain number of training game sessions.

Tracking game performance

In addition, Kainos is working with the other partners to capture information about how often the serious games are played at home between clinic sessions. This will also allow the clinicians to monitor each participant’s progress over time and to compare these to results for other participants.

Evaluating game training outcomes

For each scenario we will use these measures to evaluate each intervention. This will help the VERVE clinical partners to assess whether realistic, personalised games are actually effective or to identify refinements.

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The VERVE scenarios will use a mix of indoor and outdoor virtual environments determined by balancing the relevance to the specific clinical need in question against the complexity of creating and maintaining the serious game resulting from the scenario.


Another theme of the VERVE research is looking at whether the participants respond better to a game that includes realistic, personal scenes – from their local area, from their memories or from personal items that have special meaning for them. A number of personal aspects will be included in the scenarios and in particular those that relate to participants facing the challenge of Overcoming Apathy.

Image-based capture & display – A picture is worth a thousand words

To personalise a serious game and in particular one depicting a cityscape is traditionally too expensive and time consuming to be practical. INRIA is addressing this challenge by allowing photographs taken of their street, local landmarks or memorable scenes from their childhood to be rapidly combined to create a virtual environment that acts as the backdrop for a serious game or a virtual environment in a clinic. This is achieved by the development of a powerful new approach to Image-Based Rendering.


Video games – Making it Fun

An important aspect of VERVE is the use of “serious games” – computer games used at home that we hope will have a beneficial purpose such as deferring the onset of Alzheimer’s and helping participants to better deal with real world challenges that they face such as fears and phobias. But even serious games have to be fun! Testaluna brings a wealth of experience in games development and is helping to ensure that the VERVE games that are used are easy to use but also interactive, engaging and entertaining.

Virtual reality – Making it Real

The VERVE scenarios will use a mixture of virtual environments – from small mobile devices such as iPads right up to virtual rooms where the walls and floor are large screens creating a fully immersive space for the participant to interact with.

3D web graphics – Getting it out there

To be effective, the game has to be usable on a wide range of devices that are available to the participants, not just on dedicated gaming machines. DFKI is driving forward XML3D – a standard for presenting 3D scenes through ordinary web browsers. This means that the games can be used on almost any internet connected device such as PCs, games consoles, tablets and smart phones.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Lessons learnt


Scope: International