Phobia of cockroaches? Serious game could help

Cockroaches; if the mere mention of this word sets your body a quiver and your sweat glands into overdrive then you may have Katsaridaphobia – what the National Geographic calls the fear of cockroaches. But Imagine if you could play a game on your phone that could help you overcome your fear without a living cockroach in site. Tell me more you scream? Well I am about to do just that. Botella et al 2011 wanted to test serious gaming and phobias in their study and created a game named simply “Cockroach Game”.

The term “Serious Game” was first mentioned in 1970 by Clark Abt, obviously Clark didn’t know his Xbox from his PlayStation (because they didn’t exist) however he believed SG shouldn’t be for pure fun but serve an educational purpose. Serious gaming should serve to teach you something useful instead of just letting you mindlessly blast zombies and squealing with delight as your screen is splattered with zombie goo (unless of course there is a zombie apocalypse).

Over recent years there has been increased research into SG and health issues. Boland 2007 combined SG and mobile phones to teach obese children about healthy eating and physical exercise. Since 2007 mobile phone sales have continued to rise and you would be hard pressed now to find someone who doesn’t own one considering there are 6.8 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide. Fogg 2007 even stated “mobile phones will soon become the most important platform for changing human behaviour.“ and it looks like he may have been right.

Botella et al 2011 believed that because SG can change behaviour it may be useful to overcome phobias. Although there are a lot of games out there that incorporate fear inducing stimuli if the games are to be used in a clinical setting as part of therapy they need to meet strict conditions and thus Botella et al decided to create their own. The main objective of the game was to help the user to become familiar with the cockroach and so less scared to interact with it.

The Cockroach Game is a puzzle game in which there are two scenarios and two levels of difficulty. Firstly there is the screen option which shows the users different pictures of cockroaches on things such as shoes and hands. Now for the hardcore stuff, the second option is the camera option, this allows the user to see virtual cockroaches on real surfaces like their own hands or clothes. Think you could handle that? To complete the puzzle the user must kill the cockroach after interacting with it (this was a Spanish study and in Spanish culture killing a cockroach is the norm as they are considered dirty). But these are just virtual so no cockroaches were harmed in the making of this game. The user can also increase the size or amount of cockroaches and the new insects will appear in random places on the screen. Once the puzzle is complete the user will get a virtual “trophy”, woohoo.

In the study a 25 year old woman who had a huge fear of cockroaches was given the game to try before having Augmented Reality treatment. The results shows that by using the game the woman’s fear and avoidance of cockroaches reduced and she wanted to use the game during her AR treatment.

So would you play one of these games on your phone? It could be used for spiders, mice, wasps a whole range of phobias and having them so accessible could be extremely helpful.