A game to help young people cope with grief

Apart of Me
United Kingdom (London)

Enter a safe magical space where you can explore your feelings. Hear the stories of people who’ve been where you are. Discover your own strength and wisdom hidden in the darkest of places.

 

Apart of Me is the world’s first therapeutic video game that helps bereaved children find hope in the face of death. First launched in 2018, the game has already been downloaded more than 80,000 times and helped kids and families from over 50 countries deal with grief.

Boy wearing dark shirt plays videogame on smartphone

Image: Apart of Me

Co-founder Louis Weinstock was working as a child psychotherapist at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, London, when he was inspired to develop the game. He was counselling families where a parent had a terminal illness and realised that “the small number of young people and families who could access our limited service represented a tiny proportion of the number of families really struggling with grief.”

Data suggests that young Brits are in great need of support and tools to overcome grief. A child loses a parent every 22 minutes in the UK, and 25% of those who take their own life before turning 20 have experienced childhood bereavement. It’s crucial that kids are helped develop positive ways to cope and know where to find safe spaces and listening ears to express their grief.

And that’s exactly what Apart of Me set out to help with:

“We are here to support young people and their families through the heartbreak and confusion of grief, and help them learn to live fully despite their loss.” — Apart of Me

Apart of Me is completely free to download. Players enter a calm, judgement-free magical island where the air is filled with birdsong and the soothing sound of water. On the island, friendly locals are always happy to help and listen, but there’s also plenty of room to spend time on one’s own. This includes the Cave, a private space where kids can “gather their thoughts and listen to stories from people who know how it feels.”

Drawing of Apart of Me's Cave

Enter the Cave. Image: Apart of Me

Players are encouraged to complete real-world quests that help them connect with friends and family and have difficult conversations. Meanwhile, bottles that wash up on the island contain ‘grief wisdom’ and practical tips from experts. But should a kid feel overwhelmed, they can reject quests and bottles at any time and discover resources, techniques and breathing exercises to find calm and unwind instead. There is currently no interaction allowed with other people through the game, which is aimed at kids aged 11+. Parents are advised to accompany younger children should they wish to play.

Hands holding smartphone and playing Apart of Me

The game is free to download. Image: Apart of Me

Apart of Me, including all therapeutic techniques, were developed in collaboration with the psychological support team at St Joseph’s Hospice as well as external psychotherapists and other health professionals specialising in child bereavement.

The app offers the best of two worlds, harnessing the expertise of rigorous scientific research and the power of entertainment. As Louis says:

“Our children are digital natives. They grow up in this world. There are many companies spending millions of pounds to get young people hooked on their technology, often with negative consequences. I realised we needed to meet young people where they are at, learning from some of the techniques of these major companies to capture young people’s attention for just long enough to be able to make a positive impact on their wellbeing and hopefully get their attention hooked on something that will actually help them build emotional resilience.”

In other words, Apart of Me speaks teen. While adolescents can be difficult to engage in therapy and often drop out of psychological treatment, 80% of UK children aged 12 to 15 play online games. An independent evaluation on the effectiveness of Apart of Me found that there is “a very positive response towards the game” and that “the gaming format is working well to create good engagement.”

Two young people play Apart of Me on tablet

Image: Apart of Me

Players seem to agree: Apart of Me has had a consistently high rating of around 4.7 on the UK app store. The game also won a number of awards, was a finalist for the 2018 Tech4Good Awards and shortlisted for the 2019 BAFTA Games Beyond Entertainment.

And the team has big plans for the future. They’re currently designing a companion app for parents and professionals, as well as a special version for specialists to use with refugee children.

AtlasAction: Need a safe space for your thoughts? Download the game (available on the iOS App Store and Google Play) and take some time for yourself in the Cave or by the rock pool. Apart of Me is a registered charity. Donate here or volunteer.
► Feeling overwhelmed? Contact a therapist or call a free mental health hotline.
► Can games change the world? Discover the playful projects that are making Earth a more fun place to be.

Written by

Bianca Fiore, Editor-in-Chief, Atlas of the Future (19 January 2022)

Project leader

Ben Page and Louis Weinstock

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