For many, chronic illness can be a rough, isolating, and difficult thing to process and live with. In fact, according to a study conducted back in 2015, having a chronic illness “significantly” raises your likelihood of increasing loneliness over time – something which can also generate more anxiety and/or depression-based illness’. Additionally, chronic pain can restrict movements and social opportunities.
In the past, virtual reality (VR) experiences have been proven to help people who suffer with anxiety disorders and various other mental health disorders, and now more than ever before, there’s a growing industry of apps to help mental health, from meditation apps to ones that remind you to take your medication. While these particular apps are simply designed to help those who suffer get through each day a little smoother, there’s now a new type of app – or rather game that hopes to become a groundbreaking force in a digital world.
The founder and philanthropist of the game, Sheri Sobrato Brisson and game producer Rosemary Lokhorst came together to make Shadow’s Edge, a mobile game that they hope will change how young adults experience chronic health conditions — and, one day, make digital games a part of healthcare worldwide. The game is available free for iPhones and Android, and brings together therapy, journalling, art and community to help people with chronic illnesses build resilience.
What makes this game so unique? Well, the game itself, which is also available in six languages and is entirely funded by donations, is multi-layered. Meaning players enter a world that’s been destroyed by The Storm, which serves as a metaphor for illness, and encounter different guides across three separate levels, Disruption, Disillusionment and Discovery. During the game, players will then answer questions in private journals, express themselves in graffiti, and interact with other players through the in-game artwork. The process of the game is designed to combine elements of art therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy, which will in-turn assist players express pent-up emotions which may be doing more harm than good.
Shadow’s Edge aims to help young people work through the potential isolation of living with chronic illness in innovative ways.
“Games can make exploring challenging issues easier by giving people the choice to interact with the content. They can explore in a judgement-free environment and they can practice what they learn,” Lokhorst says when speaking about the game.”We had a serious audience and wanted the game to be for them; from the very first character picture, we wanted the game to be for them,” Lokhorst says. “Teens really know what’s hot and what’s not, and they were not afraid to tell us.”
Since becoming available for download, Shadow’s Edge has won numerous awards, including the Digital Health Award in 2018 and a nomination for the Edison Awards in 2019, and the response from players and their support networks has been positive. “Their family and friends came back to us and said ‘it really changed something in their lives’,” says Lokhorst. One key element, she believes, is control. “In a game versus a movie, people can walk around. They can decide.” “They really gravitate towards feeling empowered,” Brisson adds.
“Building a community was very important to us. We wanted to make sure that players know they’re not alone,” Lokhorst says. “A lot of our players are isolated, home alone, or hospital-bound for months on end.” They’re brought together by Shadowgram, an in-game feature where players can exchange or send images of their art. It’s a powerful way to share experiences with other people going through similar things.
Shadow’s Edge has become the start of a growing global conversation about the benefits of gaming and VR for therapy, and if you’d like to experience what it has to offer, you can access the game for FREE on the Apple iTunes app store and Android store.