A new publisher has opened its doors, and it will dedicate itself solely to games that address wellbeing issues, GamesIndustry.biz can reveal.
Fittingly named Wellbeings, the company will publish mobile games that focus on self-care, exploring issues such as chronic pain, anxiety and depression.
For the co-founders, this new business is personal. The project is a collaboration between Playora founder Matt Spall, Get Better Games CEO Mark Ripley, and mental health educator Craig Fearn, and each is well acquainted with the ways people can struggle with mental health issues.
Spall used to suffer from chronic anxiety, Ripley's wife uses games as a form of pain relief, and Fearn has dealt with a variety of mental health issues going back to his childhood.
"I grew up with it in the era of 'What do you mean you're depressed?', 'There is nothing wrong with you!', 'Man up!' 'I get sad too!' No help or understanding at school none from the medical community or family," Fearn told GamesIndustry.biz. "This followed me through all levels of school, university, and employment (although by that point it had progressed to 'We have a leaflet on that you can read that will make you better').
"If this wasn't enough at the age of 24 or so I was diagnosed with Chronic Cluster Headache which has presented as a 3-hour long attack at levels described by clinicians as 'The worst pain a person can experience' that has occurred every day since."
Fearn said his own experiences with mental health issues and disability led him to try to help others in that position and set up Lighthouse Mentoring four years ago. When that effort started to grow, he moved it into a proper office that happened to be in the same block in Cornwall where Ripley had been working.
"It's important to us from the outset to not try to build a 'one size fits all' solution that a lot of other developers endeavour to create"
"I've been working with various healthcare companies over the last three years, producing games and apps promoting healthcare solutions, as well as being involved with clinical trials," Ripley said. "When Craig knocked at my door it seemed an obvious next step to combine our experiences to produce something new, unique and exciting."
Ripley already knew Spall, who at that point had been searching for an opportunity to work on health-focused game projects ever since he had found games helped him manage his chronic anxiety at its worst.
The three decided to realize their ambitions in the form of WellBeings, an "e-health" company which they say "focuses on the individual, not virtual therapy."
"It's important to us from the outset to not try to build a 'one size fits all' solution that a lot of other developers endeavour to create," Ripley said. "On this basis, our plans are built around a suite of games that individually address conditions. Using game mechanics on a per-condition basis means we can target a number of disorders without the complexity of addressing them all in the same product. An important consideration here is that in some conditions there is significant variance within that condition, and where we can we are building in customisation to allow the user to adjust the content in a way that is person-centered."
Despite that aversion to a 'one size fits all' approach, WellBeings is understandably concerned with accessibility. That's one of the reasons it's going to focus its efforts on mobile games with easy-to-understand mechanics.
"In today's fast-paced, permanently-interconnected society, mobile technology forms a large part of the average individual's connection with the world," Fearn said. "Its ease of use, portability and the ability to access content anywhere at any time means that mobile technology in many respects shapes the world that we live in. Other game platforms, such as console and PC, while offering significantly more game-centric focus, aren't constantly with the user, and constantly on."
Spall added, "Another factor we considered is around transient connectivity. While the games we make will connect to a central server when they can, they will all run independently of an internet connection, ensuring that anyone using them to assist with a disorder will always have access."
Beyond directly benefiting its players, WellBeings hopes it can help improve things for anyone suffering from mental health issues simply by increasing awareness and understanding.
"The only way stigma can be addressed is through the removal of negative attitudes towards those suffering from mental ill health, which we aim to address through our products," Fearn said. "However, through the unique way WellBeings is approaching this issue, we aim to deal with internal stigmatisation as well.
"In the first instance, the games we produce are designed to appeal to a broad audience, not just those suffering from mental ill health. With this approach, we hope to reduce the internal stigmatisation people feel when using a product specifically targeted at a condition by including mechanics to assist those that need help, as well as to engage those that don't, removing the discrimination that can create internal stigmatisation."
WellBeings was recently awarded a grant from the EPIC Challenge Fund, and Spall said the company is eager to explore a variety of funding options.