We think that by focusing on a set of critical empowerment tools, we can both promote healthy development and at the same time prevent serious forms of psychopathology. So why games?
The problem is that none of our current prevention programs work all that well. For at least 3 reasons: (1) We have major problems engaging and keeping these children in our programs, (2) when they do learn something, it is solely at the level of knowledge, leaving a large gap between what they know and what they actually do, and (3) we have a notoriously terrible time trying to engage parents in these programs. This is a major problem because parents are the main agents of change for their children. We are convinced that games can significantly address each of these barriers and change the face of prevention science.
Games first and foremost are fun; they engage children in a very different way than our school-based didactic programs. Second, they can provide students rich immersive contexts in which they can practice the skills they learn — this is how to build empowerment habits. Finally, and critically, games can make it much easier to involve parents, since these games can be taken home and no stigma or extra burden is placed on parents. They simply play with their kids. So, in short, games brilliantly address the major limitations inherent in our current prevention practices.
So our major goal is to create games that freak children out emotionally… and then help them deal with those freak-out scenarios. For example, one of the games we plan to develop has the goal of presenting children with a set of emotional challenges during which they can learn to manage and overcome difficult emotions, providing them a strong sense of self-efficacy and an authentic optimism about their capacities to deal with everyday stressors. The game will be aimed at 6-10 year olds, an age window in which children are optimally flexible and open to novel learning experiences. But the empowerment tools we target will not come chiefly from intense positive emotions. Instead, children will gain confidence that they can overcome their negative emotions and the experiential know-how to do so in their everyday lives. That is how we conceptualize empowerment.