“I’m stuck, every time I feel more overcome by circumstances, by the world …”, admits Jacobo, a virtual pilgrim who has just entered a shelter in Roncesvalles. Are the first seconds of Gamapea, the video game that a team of researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela has developed to promote active aging in its users, and which will be available from September. “There is data that indicates that aging is associated with a higher prevalence of physical and mental health problems (such as dementia and depression), so these demographic changes, together with health and dependency problems, mean years lived with suffering and they stress and endanger the sustainability of the social and health system ”, explains Fernando Lino Vázquez, principal investigator of the project.
Jacobo begins the journey with the hope that it will give him an opportunity to rediscover his own path. From the first screen, players are masters of their adventure: they choose how to interact with the other characters and face new challenges at each stage. “The plot integrates the player into a narrative from which interactions with historical characters, elements of the environment, symbols and legends of the way, as well as microgames arise, with the aim of acquiring the psychological tools necessary to make changes that promote their well-being and quality. of life, and train your cognitive capacity of memory, attention and concentration ”, explains Vázquez.
The challenges include memory exercises and puzzles that increase in difficulty as you progress and the practical guides propose relaxation exercises and other strategies applicable to the player’s life. Each day concludes with several tasks that users must integrate into their routines during the week between one game session and the next: make a list of pleasant activities, detect negative thoughts, record daily meals … In the first, for example, they are invited to record their mood each day and practice a relaxation exercise. “The application is synchronized with the progress in the video game and allows the user to review the care, consult the stages, review their progress and record the tasks between sessions,” the researcher says. In addition, between stage and stage, players will receive notifications on their mobile phones that remind them of the tasks they have pending.
The goal of Gamapea is that those who follow the eight-week program proposed by the game see reflected the teachings that Jacobo is receiving in their own lives. And the results of the preliminary study are promising, says Vázquez: “The people who did it obtained significant improvements in their perceived general health, their physical functioning, their social functioning and their mental health. In addition, they were highly satisfied ”.
Can a video game, as a whole, make such profound changes in the lives of its players? “Each puzzle and each task are designed based on scientific evidence and clinical experience,” says Vázquez, whose team also has extensive experience in the different areas that Gamapea has an impact on. “The biggest challenge was adapting psychological techniques that we normally teach live and direct to the video game format. To overcome this difficulty we have the company Imatia Innovation, which did the programming and development work of the software”.
Due to its digital format, the game saves the demands that complicate the monitoring of face-to-face programs that, the researcher explains, can pose a barrier for people who live in rural areas or in cases of incompatible schedules or lack of resources. Nor does it escape the opportuneness of a format like this for the social distance that the pandemic still imposes.
Everything in Gamapea is designed to appeal to the affection of its players. It is a graphic adventure where the player assumes the role of the protagonist in an interactive story because this is the format preferred by adults. It is based on the Camino de Santiago and includes real scenarios of this route because “it is something very ours,” summarizes Vásquez. “And it is loaded with precious locations, history, culture and human experiences of self-improvement.”
Who is it for? Although the effects of this video game should be noticed in older ages, the WHO recommends that active aging programs be applied throughout the life course, especially in adulthood. “It is not only about living longer, but also about taking care of ourselves and cultivating our abilities to keep ourselves in the best possible health conditions throughout the years.” For this reason, Gamapea is designed for players 45 years and older.
At the moment, Vázquez and his team are polishing some details of the game with the intention of offering it on a large scale and for free from September. “The goal is to replicate its efficacy and utility found in the previous study,” he says. To achieve this they have the financing of a project from the Ministry of Science and Innovation. Testing Gamapea will then require meeting three requirements: be over 45 years old, have an internet connection and an Android phone. “People who are interested in participating can contact our team.”
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