19 May 2015

Using the Mass Effect Trilogy in Psychotherapy

I'll admit that I am a bit of a late joiner to the Mass Effect trilogy, especially since the first game was released in 2007, and the third was released in 2012. But I am sold, and am a huge fan of the game. I actually enjoyed the game so much, that I feel that it can be used as a therapeutic intervention.

If you Google Mass Effect Counselling, or Mass Effect Therapy you will find this in game clip. But I do believe Mass Effect can be used as a part of therapy to help understand social situations and impacts of decisions.

I have started using it with teenage males that are struggling to understand their social impacts, and the hope that using a video game that is appealing will allow them to role play what it is like to interact in different ways socially.

Theoretical Background
The idea spurred from research that is being conducted out of the University of Victoria, by Kathy Sanford. They are finding that there is an upside to playing video games. That is, in game social skills: i.e. trying new roles, working together as a team; are spilling out into the real world.

Jane McGonigal is the founder of Gameful, and gave a powerful TED Talk about how gamers are solving problems in the digital world and believes that those skills can be harnessed in the real world.

BioWare's Mass Effect trilogy, while it is a mix Role-Playing Game (RPG) and First Person Shooter (FPS), is a game about decisions that impact the story and even the outcome of the game (like a create your own adventure book). The game provides a Good vs Evil or Bad Cop vs Good Cop experience in decisions, choices and conversations via it's Paragon vs Renegade scale. Notice in this review how different conversation choices led to different outcomes (watch for 30 seconds). Such decisions also impact loyalty with squad members, romance, and the game experience.

First, the Empathy Quotient, a 60 question questionnaire, is used as a pre-test to help determine where clients are at presently (Yes I am aware that it was designed to "[assess] the level of social impairment in certain disorders like Autism." But it is also "suitable for use as a casual measure of temperamental empathy by and for the general population.").

Second, play the Mass Effect trilogy. (But Josh, the game is rated M, for Mature, which is for ages 17+. That is true, but if your child/teen plays Borderlands, Call of Duty, Battlefield, and/or Grand Theft Auto V; Mass Effect is suitable). If the rating is questionable, consider reading the reviews on www.commonsensemedia.org for more information. Clients are encouraged to play a Paragon role, if not, notice the outcomes of playing as a Renegade vs Paragon.

Third, the Empathy Quotient is used again as a post test.

The hope is that by having a slowed down conversation process where players can choose how to respond and decision making, that those skills will spill over to the real world. That noticing how Renegade and Paragon actions influence relationships, game play and outcomes will impact real world relationships. The measurable outcome is a higher score in the post-test than the pre-test.

The intervention is in it's infancy, but I am hopeful.