Proposed Title of Project: Stabylize
The proposed system, application or technology aims to help trauma survivors stabilize their life by –
- Changing their mental focus to activities they have control over.
- Persuading them to engage in activities that give them more actual control over their life.
- Providing a framework that rewards accomplishments by providing the user with a visually rewarding personal report card of their accomplishments.
One of the primary experiences of trauma survivors is the perceived or actual loss of control (National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, n.d.). The use of the Serenity Prayer by many recovery groups points to the primary importance of this factor. Survivors can feel psychologically out of control because of the trauma experience. They may be experiencing factors that impact their ability to physically control their life, such as physical injuries, economic losses, or a loss of control over their environment from losing their home or place of employment. Whatever the source of the trauma, people cannot recover and thrive until they stabilize their life.
Often people are given vague advice about trauma recovery, such as giving it time, taking it easy on themselves, or not jumping back into anything too soon. There may be some specific suggestions, like going for walks or spending time with other people. But much of the online help does not recognize that trauma affects every part of your life. Only when people have rebuild (or in some cases simply built for the first time) a stable foundation that gives them back a certain amount of control, can they truly move forward.
Stabylize will seek to use persuasive technology techniques to provide a road map for people to work toward stabilizing their life in measurable and rewarding ways while they are going through the recovery process. It will be website based, and have a mobile app so that users can interact on whatever electronic platform they are using. The service will use such techniques as the empowered progress effect, set completion, sequencing, and profile completion bars to make daily activities manageable while leading toward greater gains (Anderson, 2011). The virtual gains will directly reflect gains made in the real world.
This project is important because it provides direction for survivors who want specific and ongoing steps they can incorporate into their regular life, which will not simply focus on mental recovery. There are many programs that seek to remove the survivor from mainstream life (Outward Bound, Project Odyssey, Lone Survivor Retreats, etc.) until they are strong enough to return to their regular routine. There are many private and group counseling resources that focus on the mental fallout from trauma. Stabylize will focus on behavior change that results in actually regaining control in a tangible fashion.
SuperBetter is a game created to help people recover from an injury or illness (Feiler, 2012). While it can also be used for general health improvement, its creator designed it after she suffered a catastrophic health crisis (McGonigal, 2012). The game is designed to encourage resilience by leading the user through a series of quests that enhance four types of strength; emotional, mental, physical, and social.
The game uses several devices to encourage behavior change. It has a social networking component called “Allies” who can be invited to offer support. A “Power-Up” is something to do when the user needs a quick boost, whereas a “Future Boost” provides the user something to look forward to. A player can fight “Bad Guys,” which are those factors that stop recovery. The game scores the user on each of the four strengths, and provides current and peak scores.
SuperBetter Strengths and Weaknesses
SuperBetter effectively uses many gamification techniques to persuade players to stay engaged. It provides badges that reward achievement at reasonable intervals. The color scene is bright and engaging in keeping with the tone of the game, which is upbeat and positive. An icon of the scoreboard can be seen from all the screens, so the user is constantly reminded of their progress. Additionally, it has a social networking component, which allows you to post your activities to Twitter or Facebook.
Some users may not be able to relate to SuperBetter because its tone could be too saccharine for people in recovery. While the graphics are well-designed, and the game is supported by explanations of the science behind its design, it does seem to be marketed to people who are open to a lighthearted tone. This could detract from the seriousness of its purpose.
SuperBetter also seeks to be flexible by allowing its users to tailor a great deal of the content. This is meant to be positive, but could be negative for players looking for more structure. Finally, there is nothing tangible to work toward, which could decrease motivation.
Foursquare is marketed as a location-based service to match users with the best places to go based on their personal preferences. In actuality it is a highly effective social networking site geared toward exhibiting a person’s affluence, perceived good taste, or coolness quotient. Foursquare allows people to show off to their friends (and the world) by earning check-ins and badges that almost entirely relate to consumer goods. Its primary targeted users are those who have the free time and excess spending money to check-in at multiple stores and restaurants. However, it can also be used to broadcast almost any location-based interest, such as museums, parks, beaches, or entertainment venues.
Foursquare Strengths and Weaknesses
This service’s graphics and badges are extremely engaging. They are designed to appeal to almost any audience, providing hundreds of badges that focus on such topics as fashion, sports, exercise, entertainment, and eating out. They also provide specialized badges for people to participate in particularly noteworthy events, like South By Southwest. Users are shown how they can earn badges in relation to where they are located, so a person who is at one location can easily be persuaded to go a block out of their way to earn a check-in that will bring them closer to their badge goals.
When a user checks-in to a location, they are rewarded with broadcasting their association with that activity or place and contributing to the set completion which will lead to a badge. Additionally, they are often rewarded with a discount or freebie at the location.
The primary weakness of Foursquare is it is essentially frivolous in nature and borders on coercion (Macsai, 2010). The addictive quality that is so good at persuading people to go to “just one more” coffee shop or one more braggable location encourages consuming beyond your means. Like the rats who keep hitting the lever that feeds them sugar, Foursquare can activate the same parts of the brain that encourage addictive shoppers (Washenko, 2012).
Stabylize would improve on these two persuasive technologies in a number of ways. It would provide the badges and virtual rewards, but these would be closely tied with progress made in steps leading to greater control over the user’s life. This connection between real life and virtual rewards is present in Foursquare, but in Stabylize it would be directed toward an entirely different aim. Whereas Foursquare (arguably) provides a downward spiral of behavior (i.e. the user typically ends up spending money on consumer goods), Stabylize would encourage a positive feedback loop. Activities that provided virtual rewards and indicators of progress would lead to real material gains, a reduction in anxiety, and a greater sense of well-being. These improvements would promote more online interaction with the Stabylize platform.
Stabylize would improve on SuperBetter by providing activities that are more inherently braggable. Social engagement only works when people want to share their accomplishments. That is not to say that psychological accomplishments are not real or important. However, users are more motivated to brag about activities that make them appear stronger, rather than those that show an improvement from weakness. People typically don’t check-in to their psychologist’s office; they do post the number of sit-ups they accomplish.
Anderson, S. P. (2011). Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences (Paperback or Kindle ed.). Berekely, CA: New Riders.
Feiler, B. (2012). She’s Playing Games With Your Lives. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/fashion/jane-mcgonigal-designer-of-superbetter-moves-games-deeper-into-daily-life.html
Macsai, D. (2010). From Addiction to Apathy: The Five Stages of Foursquare Use. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/1603217/addiction-apathy-five-stages-foursquare-use
McGonigal, J. (2012). The Game That Can Give You Ten Extra Years of Life. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_the_game_that_can_give_you_10_extra_years_of_life
National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center (n.d.). Victim Reactions to Traumatic Events Handout. Retrieved from http://www.dartmouth.edu/~eap/reactionstotrauma.pdf
Washenko, A. (2012). Why Customers Are Addicted to Foursquare and Facebook Check-Ins. Sproutsocial. Retrieved from http://sproutsocial.com/insights/foursquare-facebook-check-ins/