The Psychology Behind Shadow’s Edge
Shadow’s Edge is designed to empower teens and young adults to take charge of their emotional health.
The 3D mobile game invites youth to work through their “tough stuff” in a playful way, as they revive a storm-
shattered city. What makes Shadow’s Edge unique is that it is a cool way to make working on oneself and dealing with difficult emotions palatable and even fun for Adolescents.
Click here to watch the Overview Video.
Shadow’s Edge is rooted in narrative therapy, positive psychology, and digital art therapy. It also includes several mindfulness exercises. The psychology embedded within Shadow’s Edge was designed by our founder Sheri Sobrato Brisson, who has both a MA in Counseling Psychology, and lived experience as a young adult cancer survivor. Shadow’s Edge was co-created with youth, with over 500 interactions through focus groups, surveys, and game testers. Shadow’s Edge continues to evolve with feedback from youth who stand most to benefit from it. Validated by a Stanford University pediatric psychologist, as well as our own in-house psychotherapist, our award-winning game has been vetted by child life specialists, clinical psychologists, social workers from around the globe.
Our first impact study in partnership with University of Twente, The Netherlands evaluated the effect of gameplay on Resilience. The study found that after only one month of playing Shadow’s Edge, young players commented on improvement in all seven resilience factors, most notably Emotional Regulation, Optimism, and Positive Self-Identity. A full-scale clinical study completed in 2021 by Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine/Lurie’s Children’s Hospital, Chicago points to the positive impact of playing Shadow’s Edge on identity flexibility and formation. A 2022 pilot study at University Zurich highlights that playing Shadow's Edge is likely to be useful as a tool in secondary prevention of depression. We are in the process of setting up further research.
The Storyline of the Game
Shadow's Edge is a setting that simulates the disruptions and healings of life with a once vibrant,
interconnected city that was hit by a storm. The storyline is one of working through challenge, and how our personal narrative evolves with the adversities we encounter in life. The metaphors of the game worlds, the characters and their dialog, the journaling prompts, digital art therapy and the psycho-educational content woven throughout all work together to support a player’s awareness and understanding of his or her own journey but does so in the context of play -- in a medium that draws in adolescent and young adult players.
How Game Mechanics Support Personal Growth
The key levels in the game, Disruption, Disillusionment, and Discovery, represent different stages of emotional Healing. The Guardians of each world, teenage characters who were left behind in the storm, along with the Wisdom Pigeons, help guide the player through their journey and offer helpful advice.
When the player enters the game world, he begins in the phase of Disruption- a dark, unbalanced, and surreal world where everything is out of whack. The Guardian of this stage, Ty, attempts to keep things “as normal as possible.” Tough as she is, she quickly learns that her old style of pushing forward just doesn’t work anymore.
This sends the player to the next phase, Disillusionment. Here the player meets the next Guardian, Maize. She is a bit overwhelmed by her feelings and embodies, “now what?” Yet despite Maize’s eb and flow of emotions, her world shows signs of rebuilding--the dust settles, scaffolding and ladders appear, the lights turn on, plants sprout, and animals begin to scurry about. Life comes back as a result of the players’ self-expression through writing and art. Maize can see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, yet she doesn’t know--and needs to work--through how to get there.
Luckily, the player encounters Pax in the next phase, Discovery. Pax has accepted her challenge and embraces it. She chooses to be optimistic. In her world, the player can climb higher up in the city, offering a bird’s eye view of the artistic creations from earlier stages. This symbolizes how empowering it is to look back on how far the player has come, inspiring confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
Shadow’s Edge gameplay is non-linear, mimicking how, in real life, finding and gaining acceptance and moving forward are rarely a straight path. Text messages from the Guardians encourage players to revisit and refine their work from earlier stages and to continue to improve upon it, symbolizing just how, as in real life, people can grow through challenge.
The writing prompts are based on the award-winning Digging Deep Journal, a successful physical journal distributed to children’s hospitals nationwide, directly to children and their families. The writing prompts help players explore themselves and their issues.
Changing Times: Describe the changes you’ve been through and who you are becoming?
My Armor: What are you protecting yourself from and why?
Talking, Listening and Hearing: Who can you confide in? When people don’t “get it” how can you help them understand?
Through both journaling and digital art therapy, players process their emotions and come to a greater point of self-understanding, both critical steps to emotional recovery. In addition to guided expressive writing, player receive an endless blank journal page to as a safe space to write about any topic. This space can also be used to work with therapists or counselors.
Digital Art Therapy
Through artistic expression, players release feelings that they may not be able to articulate otherwise. Responding to the writing prompts, they are rewarded with bonus tools to create street art murals all over the city. They make Graffiti by “spraying” free-form images and or patterns using various colors and caps, then layering with stencils and stickers, also unlocked with the progress of the game. You can add words to images using graffiti fonts, reinforcing “aha moments” from the journaling exercises. Players have the option of going back and covering their art or adding layers to it. This encourages experimentation and play, as a metaphor for how one evolves over time. Graffiti doesn’t require a special talent, nor does it need to be “perfect.” Like active street artists, young people need to put themselves out there to help them connect with others.
Self-Care and Wisdoms
Peers have a dedicated area for sharing and learning. Here, players can choose to post their graffiti(partially or fully), view the artwork of other players, and send pre-defined positive comments to other players. In addition, one can gather artwork from other players and save it in their “Hall of Inspiration,” symbolizing our learnings from others.
A pigeon appears throughout the various game levels and plays the role of a teacher. It shares psycho-educational “wisdoms” and mindfulness exercises that help players deal with their feelings in their real life.
Writing can help you discover your voice and connect you to your wisdom inside.
It's the anger and fear that we don't express that can get stuck inside and further depress us. You can be who you think you are.
Even if it doesn't feel natural at first, fake it until you make it - believe in what you want to become.