York

Tackling Anxiety, Playfully

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September 25th, 2013
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A University of York researcher is helping to develop a social game to help people to tackle anxiety and to face their fears in a fun way.

The ClearFear game project, led by Dr Martin Webber from the University’s Department of Social Policy and Social Work and Philippe Greier of playmakers industries, involves players finding their own ‘super-powers’ and tackling missions with the support of a small team to overcome their fears.

Research suggests that one in ten people suffer from social anxiety disorder – a persistent fear of social situations – at some point in their lives.  Although the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance recommends medication or psychological therapy for treatment of social anxiety, only about half of adults seek help and most only do so after experiencing problems with their anxiety for over 20 years.

Dr Webber, Director of the International Centre for Mental Health Social Research, which is based at York, said: “Fear is inherent in human nature and we are all anxious at times, whether we have a disorder or not. Formal treatments are often either inappropriate or unavailable, and we are therefore working on a game which will help people to confront their fears in a fun way.

“The ClearFear game is a real-life social game in which people create a ‘super-hero’ persona based on their strengths and then use this persona to try something which they would normally be too anxious or fearful to do. This could be something as simple as approaching a stranger and asking them for directions or a fact about the town. The basic idea is that people can confront their fear by poking fun at it.”

The game involves small groups helping each other to discover their strengths, then to use these to take on missions and make other people smile.

The project has received support from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA), which looks for innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges. As a Fellow of the RSA, Dr Webber was awarded a grant from its Catalyst Fund to help get the project off the ground and now ClearFear is one of six projects currently featured on an RSA-curated page on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

Additional funding raised through crowdfunding will be used to develop a website with clear instructions on how to play the game, allowing ClearFear game players from across the globe to be connected and share their successful missions online. Funds will also be used to create a version of the game for individuals to play and a gamers’ tool kit for groups.

Part of the development process has involved testing the game with people recovering from substance abuse problems.

Stuart Taylor, Lead Recovery Community Organiser for the RSA’s Whole Person Recovery programme in West Kent, said: “It was very heartening to see the enthusiasm that was palpable within the group.  What had started as a rather pensive atmosphere was clearly dispelled and replaced by a bubbly and laughter-filled sense of fun and can-do amongst the group members.”

Dr Webber added: “People recovering from severe problems sometimes feel they have nothing to offer to society, but by talking about the problems they have experienced in their lives, players help each other to identify what they are good at and enjoy most.

“There is a still a lot of further work to be done on developing, testing and evaluating the ClearFear game, but we believe social gaming may have an important role to play in mental health.”

More information on the RSA Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign and the ClearFear game is available at http://www.thersa.org/fellowship/catalyst

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