Many older people are unable to maintain rewarding in-person connections due to restricted physical mobility or mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. For this group, digital engagement via rich, multiuser extended reality games may provide opportunities for deep social engagement and significant agency; however, these games are often not designed for older people.
We previously developed a user interface that captured older-people's real-world physical actions and used them to navigate a rich virtual world (1). This demonstrated that older users were able to interact and perform complex activities in the virtual world, with natural movements giving them a strong sense of presence.
This project will develop Planet WellBeing - a virtual world to allow people to use natural physical movements to control their avatar performing fun and engaging activities with friends and family and/or strangers in a virtual environment. These activities might include exploring on foot or in vehicles, dancing, games, or interacting with robot animals.
Alongside non-moderated use, moderated sessions will be led by expert practitioners and therapists who will facilitate rich social interactions and conversations that participants may find difficult in real-world settings. It is hoped that the rich social engagement within this world will benefit users' mental wellbeing and reduce feelings of loneliness.
The project will:
- Co-design physical interfaces and virtual scenarios with older people
- Develop Planet WellBeing - an age-appropriate virtual environment suitable for at-home use by older users
- Recruit a minimum of 15-25 users (with potential to increase to 50) to use immersive hardware at home for a 12 week period
- Assess mental health as well as loneliness, usability, engagement, physical and quality of life throughout the 12 weeks
This work will include demonstrator and trials for later large-scale study and eventual system rollout. The project will be led by immersive specialists PixelMill, with the support of the AWRC, Centre for Loneliness Studies at Sheffield Hallam University, Innerva (previously Shapemaster) and Age UK Sheffield.
Read more on UKRI News.
References: (1) McSeveny, K., Heller, B., Light, A., & Machaczek, K. K. (2013). ‘You could, couldn’t you?’: A preliminary investigation of older people’s interaction with a bespoke virtual environment using a gesture interface. Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds, 5(3), 235-249.