Personal Investigator

Personal Investigator (PI) is a 3D computer game which implements a mental health intervention model called Solution Focused Therapy (SFT). PI represents the first time SFT has been integrated into a 3D game. The game is designed specifically for use in adolescent interventions. In the game adolescents visit a Detective Academy and play the role of a personal investigator hunting for the clues that will help them solve a personal problem.

Date: October 2003 - present
Collaborators: David Coyle, John Sharry, Gavin Doherty, Andy Nisbet
Awards: 02 Digital Media Award
Tools:Adobe Atmosphere, Flash, Javascript
Deliverables: Publications

Design Process

PI was designed in close collaboration with Dr. John Sharry. Many additional therapists were consulted during the design process. Contextual interviews and postal surveys were conducted to gain an understanding of the environment and day-to-day requirements for the game.

The Game

In the game players are given a detective notebook, where they are asked to record their thoughts and ideas. Five solution focused conversational strategies are mapped into five distinct game areas. In each area the player meets a character who talks with the player in an informal way and asks the player to answer questions in their notebook. Three of the conversations incorporate videos of adolescents describing how they overcame personal problems using the strategies described. To complete the game and graduate the academy players must complete the tasks set by each character. Upon completing the game, they receive a printout of their notebook.


A pilot evaluation was conducted in which therapists used the game with five adolescents experiencing difficulties including anxiety and behaviour problems, attempted suicide, and social skills difficulties. The results of this study are available in (Coyle, Matthews et al., 2005). More recently a larger scale study has been completed in which 10 therapists used PI with a total of 24 adolescent clients.

Therapeutic Impact:Initial results indicate that playing PI in sessions can be very helpful in engaging adolescents. It can increase the amount of dialogue between therapists and adolescents, help structure sessions and help in setting therapeutic goals. The use of 3D had an empowering effect, allowing the adolescent more control over the pacing and direction of the therapeutic process. Both therapists and adolescents found the game very easy to use and therapists felt it integrated well with traditional approaches. The use is video-based peer storytelling proved particularly popular with adolescents.

Using PI: PI is designed for use in therapeutic sessions involving one adolescent and one therapist. Dialogues with characters in PI are designed to create a context for more detailed conversations between therapists and their clients. In clinical sessions the therapist and adolescent sit together at a computer, but the adolescent has full control over the game; they play at their own pace and choose their own path through the world. Throughout the game the therapist is a partner in the exploration of the game world and is no longer an interlocutor. If the adolescent asks for help, the therapist can elaborate on the subjects brought up by the game or answer more specific questions from the adolescent in relation to their situation.