My nephew Jack is a cool kid, very active and loves football. Unfortunately he suffers from Perthes disease. I’ll quote Wikipedia for its description:
“…a childhood hip disorder initiated by a disruption of blood flow to the ball of the femur called the femoral head. Due to the lack of blood flow, the bone dies (osteonecrosis or avascular necrosis) and stops growing. Over time, healing occurs by new blood vessels infiltrating the dead bone and removing the necrotic bone which leads to a loss of bone mass and a weakening of the femoral head. The bone loss leads to some degree of collapse and deformity of the femoral head and sometimes secondary changes to the shape of the hip socket.”
Ouch. Bad news for a nine-year old boy. The good news is that this disease has a very good chance of clearing up in a few years, the hip returning to normal. For this to happen though, Jack must do a daily set of exercises. They involve stretching the legs, exercising the hips and repeating certain movements for thirty seconds at a time.
Here’s the problem: the exercises are uncomfortable, boring and not a lot of fun. Although they’re necessary to get the blood flowing properly, Jack sometimes forgets or skips them.
A couple of months ago my sister and I were discussing the problem and we thought an app might help. Jack loves mobile and PS4 games, they are designed to distract and can be addictive. What if there was a game that :
- Would remind Jack to do the exercises
- Jack could play while doing his exercises
- Made exercise time fun
- Remind Jack of the exercise positions
- That would reward him for coming back and playing it again
So, here comes Therapy Quest. Maybe a working title, maybe final… It’s essentially a Role Playing Game where the hero fights enemies, levels up their gear and advances through a world. Absolutely nothing about this is new in the world of games, it’s a good working formula. What is new is the context, and will be a great testing ground for some ideas.
This context produces some interesting design challenges:
Once Per Day
It is a game that is designed to be played exactly once per day, and then shuts down until the next day. We don’t want Jack to over-extend himself on the exercises and do more harm than good. We also don’t want him to play it without doing the exercises, burning through the content and getting bored with it after a week. The hope is that the game is intrinsically fun enough that Jack wants to play it, is reminded to play it and at least once per day thinks “I can level-up my character if I do my exercises.”
Jacks exercises involve lying on his belly and stretching his legs, sitting almost cross-legged, lying on his back with leg extended, and lying on his back with his leg extended while bracing his leg with a belt. Not many positions allow him to have both hands free, and one precludes holding the device altogether.
Engaging but not distracting
The app is actually a glorified egg-timer, showing Jack which position to be in while counting down the duration of the exercise. Of course there’s nothing in the app to force Jack to do the exercises, he could just lie on the couch and play the game. So let’s make it easy and fun to play! Just not so engaging that Jack forgets to do the exercise…
All these goal may – and probably will – change as I work through making a prototype, but they’ll serve as high-level goals for now.
This blog will be my design scratch-pad during the creation of TQ.