Project Choices

Project Choices is an experimental serious (clinical) video game for correctional assessment and intervention, co-developed by Dr. King and Dr. Robert Morgan of the University of Southern Illinois, and with various assistance from their students.

Leisure video game playing is highly prevalent among both adults and youth.1,2, and educational games have a relatively long history.e.g.,3 Some scholars have thus noted the potential utility of serious (clinical) video game technology for correctional assessment and intervention.e.g.,4 Beyond such technology potentially offering a more engaging modality to complement traditional service modalities, they may also increase access to largely self-directed care, and depending on how they are designed, they may facilitate performance-based measurement relevant to criminogenic risk assessment. However, there are very few examples of such technology for justice-involved adults and youth, and none that have been well researched.5,6,7

Accordingly, Drs. King and Morgan partnered with Skyless Game Studios to develop version 1 of a serious video game for correctional assessment and intervention, called Project Choices (PC), with initial support from Montclair State University and Texas Tech University. The game consists of realistic decision-making scenarios that persons undergoing correctional reentry have reported. Two-dimensional graphics were employed to keep development costs manageable. Players can respond to scenarios with various safe, neutral, or risky choices, and wager on their decisions, which influences the probabilities of resultant positive, neutral, and negative outcomes. The outcomes based on a player’s choice will, in turn, influence functional player statistics (stats), including an overall risk stat and the secondary stats of mental, emotional, physical, social, and financial. The game scenarios, assorted response options, opportunity to wager on choices, and probabilistic outcomes were developed with the aim of striking a balance between being realistic while not being too face valid. Players are also presented with feedback about the positive, neutral, or negative outcome probabilities associated with their choices via a “wheel of fate” feature, and scenario-relevant skills explanations adapted from an evidence-based correctional intervention program, Changing Lives and Changing Outcomes (CLCO).

The goal for players is to make it through all scenarios spread out over several simulated “weeks” within the game by making choices that minimize their risk stat and maximize their other personal stats, which are updated with each choice made. If players make a series of choices that lead their risk stat to be sufficiently high, they will reoffend within the game and receive an unsuccessful game over. Ratings of the game by players and their gameplay performance metrics are tracked via an administrative backend to the game, which uses unique player IDs to capture data for individual players. The game was developed for portable devices (Apple iOS) in the interests of accessibility and familiarity, and feasibility for deployment in corrections contexts.

In a pilot intervention-focused study (currently in press at the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior) with a residential male correctional sample, participants generally appeared comparably engaged by and immersed in PC relative to a leisure video game. There was also some evidence to suggest that PC may have yielded reductions in negative problem orientation. Among the lessons learned from the pilot study were that some participants recommended the development of more scenarios for the game, and that a more user-friendly administrative backend would be helpful for eventual planned dissemination of the technology to the field.

Drs. King and Morgan subsequently received support from the American Psychology–Law Society (AP-LS), Division 41 of the American Psychological Association (APA), via Research to Enhance the Impact and Diversification of Psychology and Law Research mechanism, to develop version 2 of PC. The aims for version 2 of PC were threefold. First, to develop new adult scenarios for PC, reflecting a 19% increase to the original 42 scenarios. Second, to develop 50 youth-tailored scenarios and adapt the skills explanations for use with this population. And third, further adapt the technology for dissemination to the field by implementing more user-friendly administrative, data management, and access features.

Many prior scenarios, choices, and outcomes were revised, and many were newly developed, for both the adult and new youth versions of the game. A new youth version of the embedded skills explanations from CLCO were developed and integrated. Drs. King and Morgan also added metrics to capture the extent to which players made safe, neutral, or risky neutral choices across scenarios tagged for their relevance to particular Central Eight risk factors. Moreover, many administrative features were revised or newly developed to improve the user-friendliness of the technology for researchers. These efforts have results in version 2 of PC, with both adult and youth versions.

Drs. King and Morgan and their research teams are currently researching version 2 of PC. They hope to eventually make PC available to other researchers and practitioners.

The Privacy Policy for internal distributions of Project Choices by Drs. King and Morgan can be reviewed here.