Helping a Startup Design Video Games to Build Kids’ Emotional Strength
A one-month sprint to develop new products—and a new way of working
Partner with Neuromotion Labs to evolve its design capabilities and launch the next generation of the Mightier gaming platform
As of January 2020, Mightier games has surpassed 6 million total downloads. More than 16,000 families have engaged with the platform since launch.
A suite of Mightier games and personalized support resources for families, developed with input from players
When Children Can Benefit from Playing Video Games — The Wall Street Journal
Your Children Could Learn to Control their Emotions with a Video Game — Boston Magazine
For 6-year-old Dave Jr., a long line at Disneyland triggered a massive meltdown. His parents were concerned and a little embarrassed, but not surprised; Dave Jr. struggled to keep his emotions in check.
Hoping to help, Dave Jr.'s uncle, entrepreneur Craig Lund, joined forces with researchers at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, along with a video game designer who had worked on Quick Hit and NBA 2K. Together, they set out to design something that could teach coping skills to kids like Dave Jr. who need to manage “big emotions,” as well as children suffering from anxiety, ADHD, and other behavior issues, which are on the rise.
Their collaboration resulted in a video game called Mightier and a startup called Neuromotion Labs—a 10-person team of psychologists, game designers, and engineers who embedded at IDEO Cambridge for a one-month sprint to improve the game and get ready for launch.
To play Neuromotion's game, kids are first taught simple, calming breathing exercises. During gameplay, kids wear heart-rate monitors on a wrist or arm that detect spikes caused by stress or anger; as their heart rates go up, the game's difficulty increases. Kids have opportunities to pause and try deep breathing to counter the ramped up challenge. As it turns out, "gamifying" restraint builds strong incentives for kids to take charge of their emotions—they have to if they want to win.
A prototype of the Mightier welcome kit for kids, which shows them how the program works and helps them measure their current emotional state
Already activated around boosting mental and emotional health, IDEO's design team worked side-by-side with Neuromotion to study how parents and children experience Mightier. From home visits to group interviews to a summer camp-style design session with kid players, live feedback fueled the next iteration of the gaming platform and better product-market fit.
IDEO helped Neuromotion hone the visual design and mechanics of Mightier and expand it's suite of games. The team observed that the Mightier program was more successful the more involved parents of players became, which revealed a need for additional resources for adults. So they created new supports, including a more detailed orientation and a personalized coaching service for parents staffed by trained therapists.
The IDEO and Neuromotion teams worked together to map and improve the user journey for Mightier families.
But can a video game actually help kids cope? Early peer-reviewed studies showed that playing Mightier reduced outbursts by 62 percent, oppositional behaviors by 40 percent, and parental stress by 19 percent. After 12 weeks of using Mightier, a survey of kids and parents showed that 96 percent of parents saw positive behavior changes in their children, while 92 percent of kids learned new coping skills.
IDEO’s biggest impact was on how our team operates. Before the project, we struggled to prioritize, test ideas rapidly, and make our thinking visible. Now we’re asking better questions and getting answers faster.
Craig Lund, Co-founder & CEO, Neuromotion Labs
Shortly after the design sprint, Neuromotion secured its next round of funding and officially launched Mightier’s array of “bioresponsive games.” The games have already been played more than a million times, and Neuromotion has measured more than a 100 million heartbeats. Mightier games are helping kids and families across the country.
What about Dave Jr.? Recently, his sister told Lund she "accidentally" bumped Dave Jr.’s bike off a pier and into the ocean. She was expecting an outburst of anger, but after eight months of playing Mightier, Dave Jr. stayed cool. His uncle couldn’t be prouder.