When the MindTech Healthcare Technology
Co-operative tweeted about Champions of the
Shenga, we were intrigued. It’s an 'emotionally responsive
game' which rewards players for regulating their emotions. In this
game, it pays to keep your cool while playing. Thus the developers
hope it will help train players in mindfulness techniques.
Mindfulness is a meditative activity that originates in Buddhist
practice. It helps a person notice what they are sensing and
thinking, and how they are reacting to it, in a non-judgemental
way. This allows the person to be more aware of such feelings, and
enables them to react differently, in more constructive ways. There
is growing research into mindfulness-based therapies, and current
evidence supports the use of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
for prevention of relapse in people who are currently well but have
experienced three or more previous episodes of depression.
Champions of the Shenga will use a Bluetooth sensor to
detect the players’ heart rate and claims to use heart rate
variability (HRV) as a measure of the players’ stress and anxiety.
The game itself is a card duelling game with a fantasy theme, and
can be played against players across the world. A player is more
powerful within the game if they are able to utilise diaphragmatic
breathing exercises in order to raise their HRV, which the game
understands as a measure of reduced stress. The game asks players
to 'gather magic power' through controlled, focused breathing.
Simon Fox, the Design Director of BfB Labs gave us more
information about their upcoming game.
Can you tell us about your game Champions of the
Champions of the Shengha is a card duelling game that
senses your emotions. Players step into the role of would-be
Champion engaged in magical duels - casting spells, summoning
creatures and deploying their best strategy in order to achieve
victory. In order to conjure magic players do what they imagine a
real spellcaster might - focus their mind and body as measured
using our wearable sensor. Our players must adopt and learn key
emotional regulation strategies evaluated using heart rate variance
data streamed live while they play.
The game comes with a sensor for biofeedback
What was the motivation behind the game?
Our game teaches players the kind of skills which sit at the
core of philosophies like mindfulness, or even therapies such as
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
The idea that the physiological response of our bodies to
external stressors can be observed consciously in the crucible of
our cognition. That we can forge a little space between our
immediate autonomic response to a situation and our conscious
behaviours. This is interesting stuff! As a designer I feel lucky
to be engaging with these kinds of problems.
How did you decide upon using the emotions fear, fury and joy
as the three tribes within the game?
We wanted the player’s tribal allegiances to underscore the
games’ pedagogic content. In the future we will deploy expansion
packs which contain series’ of missions including ‘in-fiction’
pedagogic content designed to teach players the value of embracing
and experiencing challenging emotions.
Do you see there being an expansion pack for other
We hope so!
What’s unique about using a game to understand mindfulness and
Building consciously around impact is a new sort of challenge
for a games designer. You might begin designing a game around a
cool story or character your players would want to engage with, or
an interesting set of rules. We begin with a measurable change we
want to make to a user’s life.
To do this you need both designers and researchers on your team,
and you need to let both do their job. Letting your games designers
be playful with the subject area and technology, while ensuring you
are designing around measurable impact is a big challenge.
The card-duelling game will reward players for using
Why do you think games have such potential for exploring mental
Games drive intense engagement when they work. They are
inherently pedagogic systems which immerse their users in a new
world with new rules - rules which must urgently be learned to
succeed. The motivations for play are very interesting - it’s an
active learning state in which players adopt a lusory attitude in
which we will accept and adapt to new norms. Our ability to explore
the system of a game, to master those rules or to share that
experience with others may one of several core motivators. That
play is motivated intrinsically by its own value makes it a great
candidate for teaching skills or creating interventions to which
Where do you see gaming and mental health going as a field in
the next 5 – 10 years?
Games design and good design in general seeks to engage a very
deep understanding of its user and make that understanding
fundamental to the creation of an artefact. Most psychological
health interventions still come from a rather didactic place. I
foresee a future where more effective interventions are designed -
interventions which adapt themselves to their user, changing their
mode as the user progresses. I foresee interventions which engage
deeply with their users rather than being imposed upon them. I
foresee a scalability driven by ubiquitous technology that allows
many more people access to effective services than currently enjoy
We’re in a golden age of board games at the moment, why do you
think this is?
Board games are a fantastic way to get involved in games design.
The cost of entry is low and it’s easy to try new things! You can
totally rebuild a board game in an afternoon. Compare that to video
games where the cost of an iteration can be a team of people
working for 2 weeks or more.
What’s the last board game you played and really
I enjoyed Pandemic a great deal. Suburbia is
also very nicely designed. I personally like games which are about
communicating so things like Resistance and
Werewolf are great fun for me. I’m also a big geek so card
games like Netrunner tickle my strategy bone.
What’s the last computer game you really enjoyed?
I’ve splashed out on a VR headset for my home (cf. big geek) and
the last thing I played on it was a surreal comedy adventure called
Where can we find out more about Champions of the
Check out our website!
Authored by Stephen Kaar
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