Opposable Games: Dr. Gary O’Reilly on Pesky Gnats, Mindfulness and Serious Games
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Dr. Gary O’Reilly on Pesky Gnats, Mindfulness and Serious Games

Posted 2014-09-01 10:55:56 by Dan Page

We’ve been working on a serious game by the name of Pesky gNats, it’s a project we’re building for our longtime client Handaxe Limited. The aim of the game is to help children learn basic cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, but there’s a little room for some mindfulness too. We talked to Dr Gary O'Reilly BA MA MPsych Sc., PhD, about what mindfulness is, how popular it’s recently become, and how exactly it’s going to be used in the Pesky gNats mobile app.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and background?

My name’s Gary O'Reilly, I work at University College, Dublin, and I’m an academic researcher on a clinical psychology training program and practicing clinical psychologist.

Can you tell us a little bit about mindfulness and how it can be applied to modern day life?

Mindfulness has become very popular in modern day life, and that comes largely from how helpful it can be when attempting to prevent adults with chronic depression from relapsing.

CBT, or cognitive behavioural therapy is a well-evidenced treatment for adults that have depression, but the difficulty is that while it was effective in the short term, a lot of people experienced relapse to depression post-successful intervention.

People looked at that problem, and they thought that what might help a person not relapse is to engage in mindfulness; to give a person a set of mindfulness skills to help them manage their stress, or just notice when they’re getting caught up in thoughts that might be difficult that might bring them back to depression.

Mindfulness has become a popular skill that a lot of people are interested in to help manage stress”

People then thought, “maybe it has a broader application”, and I suppose it also has an appeal as they’re a set of skills that people can apply to everyday life to help them manage their stress.

Mindfulness isn’t exactly meant to make you a better person, but it does help you become more aware of yourself, and that leads to being able to better manage things that life throws at you. Mindfulness has become a popular skill that a lot of people are interested in to help manage stress..

Would you say mindfulness is good as a preventative measure?

I think, most people would say that sensibly, it probably is, but we don’t have the same amount of evidence to show that, especially when compared to the amount we have that shows mindfulness helps you not relapse if you’ve had CBT to treat depression.

That’s one of the things we’re interested in with the Pesky gNats game; we’re trying to extend the availability of mindfulness to children who’re experiencing mood difficulties with things like anxiety and low mood; we’re interested in building an evidence base behind that as well. We’re carefully studying how children respond to mindfulness and then our plan is, with the new material from the game, to keep testing to find out just how effective the product can be.

What are the advantages of learning to be mindful at an early age?

It’s a skill, and the better you get at it, the better you end up able to cope with everything life throws at you, I think if you get into that healthy range of skills, whether it’s mindfulness, or if it’s CBT, or whatever else it is, the earlier you get those skills, the more prepared you are.

What's the advantage of incorporating mindfulness into an interactive environment such as the gNats app?

Firstly, we're hoping that putting it into the app will hopefully ensure that a young person might practise mindfulness.

I think it’s more than just learning it at a session that you go to with a mental health professional, which will be helpful to a degree. To be really helpful a young person that goes to a clinic or to an appointment, they need to be practising that skill on a daily basis. We’re hoping the app will provide a really fun, easy-to-use, accessible, destigmatising tool that will allow a young person to put to practise mindfulness; to do it well you need to practise, the more you practise, the better you are at the skills.

Can you tell us a bit about the gNats app and how it integrates with the desktop game?

The app will allow young people to practise all the skills they’ve learned in the desktop game through reinforcement. The practicality of having the app on your phone and in your pocket will be of huge benefit, meaning there’ll be frequent chances to easily practise the skills with something that’s fun, rewarding and enjoyable.

All of these ingredients, when cooked together, will make something that’s very appealing and fun to young people”

The main game is integrated very well in the app, with tasks between sections, each with fun games rewarding you for completing them. All of these ingredients, when cooked together, will make something that’s very appealing and fun to young people.

Will the mindfulness section be interactive itself? If not, could you envisage an interactive experience incorporating aspects of mindfulness?

Again, it’s practice, everything in the app is geared towards that. Sometimes it’s noticing sounds without judging them or noticing your thoughts without getting caught up in them, so you have to interact with the app in order to do that. So, even while you might be listening to the content or looking at an illustration, you are engaged with it. There are other tasks that do require some direct interaction with the app, so it’ll be a combination of those things.

How have you incorporated mindfulness into your work prior to gNats?

Mindfulness with young people is a relatively new departure for most people. I regularly use mindfulness exercises with the young people I work with, and they find it very helpful and engaging, and they’re easy to do.

Although the purpose of mindfulness isn’t to make you feel more relaxed, it can have a relaxing effect for some people so many people gain advantages from that. I think it just helps a person be a little calmer and more centred on what they’re currently experienced. I do regularly use it and young people seem to like it.

Are you aware of some of the work going into meditative experiences using virtual reality HMDs such as the Oculus Rift and does this interest you?

I didn’t know anything about them until the last time week spoke, but it sounds fascinating. What’s really curious about these experiences is that they raise questions of consciousness and what it is to be conscious, and your sense of self. Virtual worlds add dimensions to questions like “where am I now?”, “where am I located in space and time”. I’d love to know more.

Watch this space for more info on Pesky gNats and make sure you keep an eye on the Pesky gNats twitter.

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