Nov 20, 2022

Tools for Human Flourishing: Video Games For Emotional & Mental Health with Isabela Granic & GEMH Lab (video)

Specially-designed digital games are helping kids manage and overcome anxiety.

By Templeton Staff

Engagement in the "intrinsic joy of play" through specially-designed video games is helping kids manage their mental health. With Templeton World Charity Foundation's support, Isabela Granic and a team of social scientists, researchers, and designers at Games for Emotional and Mental Health (GEMH) Lab create digital games based on behavioral science that teach young people to regulate their anxiety.

Play this video to find out how gaming and virtual play is giving children and teenagers the agency to manage their wellbeing in a context that's more relevant to their lives than traditional cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).

Key takeaways:

  • In her studies, Granic found that only about 40 to 60% of children experienced improvement through conventional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approaches to treating chronic anxiety. Frustrated with this statistic, Granic began to wonder if its cause could be lack of engagement. With traditional CBT, "the delivery model is boring. Young people are asked to either sit in a classroom, a group therapy, or in a clinical sort of context."
  • MindLight incorporates relaxation and mindfulness techniques, attention bias modification methods, and neurofeedback mechanics into an interactive, immersive story. As GEMH Lab designer Ken Koontz shares, storytelling and role-playing transforms the experience "from being a passive media to an interactive media, where now I can, as a child, or as a player, take part in the story that I’m consuming." With games like this, Granic says, "we can deliver the same kinds of training programs, the same kind of skill-building exercises and practice [as CBT] but in a context, that is fun, that delights young people. And most important maybe is, it’s in a context that’s most relevant to children and teenagers."
  • GEMH Lab invited kids who have symptoms of anxiety to participate in a study to measure the impact of storytelling and role-playing games like MindLight vs. traditional CBT on anxiety symptoms. Scholten shares, "What we saw — and we replicated this four times — is that the MindLight group did as well as the kids who got talk therapy, which is our gold standard, if we try to treat anxiety among young children."

To learn more, watch the video with the above player.

Discover the podcast version of this episode.

Learn more about TWCF-funded research project related to this episode.

This video is a winner of a 2023 Communicator Award of Excellence in the category of Health and Wellness.


Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” videos by journalist and senior media executive Richard Sergay feature human stories and critical perspectives on breakthroughs about the universe’s big questions. The inspiring narratives and observations in these award-winning videos portray the individual and societal impacts of the projects that bring to life TWCF-supported research.