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[Press Release] Yale Study with Teens Concludes: VR Game Prototype Developed by PreviewLabs has Potential to Prevent Vaping

New Haven, Connecticut: Findings from a Yale University School of Medicine study evaluating the effectiveness of “Invite Only VR: A Vaping Prevention Game”, a virtual reality game prototype for vaping prevention, were recently published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors.

PreviewLabs, a rapid game prototyping studio, developed the game prototype for the Yale play4REAL XR Lab research team, who found that the intervention was not only successful in changing e-cigarette and nicotine addiction knowledge, perceived addictiveness of e-cigarettes, harm perceptions, and social perceptions, but that the game was also enjoyable to play and that the players were satisfied with the VR experience.

Video showing the final Invite Only VR prototype.

The project started in 2017 at the Yale play4REAL XR Lab under the leadership of Dr. Kimberly Hieftje, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the lab, with funding from Oculus VR (see previous press release). After some initial prototyping work using the Samsung Gear VR headset in 2018, the prototype was developed further for the Oculus Go and made available for the public in November 2019 on the Oculus Go Store. As the 6-month long study evaluating the effectiveness of the videogame intervention unfolded, Invite Only received multiple awards including a Gold Award at the 2020 Serious Play Conference and inclusion in the Forbes Top 50 VR Games of 2019 (where PreviewLabs was also mentioned for their work on Journey for Elysium).

The real classroom (right) and the virtual version (left).

For the prototype, the team at Yale took pictures and recorded audio fragments at a school in New Haven. PreviewLabs worked with Glowfish Interactive to create virtual school environments that the students would recognize.

In 2019 and early 2020, the Yale researchers went into multiple schools in the Milford School District to evaluate the prototype with 285 students, as an NPR article details. After following the students for 6 months and analyzing all the data, the results of their work were summarized in a research paper recently published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors. Researchers from McGill University, UC Berkeley, and the New England Conservatory contributed to the development and evaluation of the prototype.

Cover page and front page of the paper about Invite Only VR published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors

Cover page and front page of the paper about Invite Only VR published in the Journal for Addictive Behaviors.

Dr. Veronica Weser, first author of the paper summarized the findings as follows: “Relative to students who did not play, Invite Only VR players increased their knowledge about vaping and nicotine addiction. Players also responded to questions about social aspects of vaping in a way that indicated that playing the game helped them to realize that vaping wasn’t as ‘cool’ as they initially thought.”.

“The most exciting part of these results is that these changes in knowledge and social perceptions were maintained even 6 months after playing the game”, Dr. Weser added.

Graph showing the results on a knowledge test about e-cigarette (vaping) knowledge for the students who played Invite Only VR, versus those who were in the control group and didn't play.

The students took a vaping knowledge test immediately before and after playing the game, as well as at 3 and 6 months after playing.

Apart from focusing on knowledge, Invite Only also educates its players about the dynamics of peer pressure as well as refusal techniques. Dr. Hieftje explains: “As Invite Only VR uses voice recognition, teens are able to practice refusing peers in real time using their own voice. The intervention focuses on skill-building, which is important for acquiring and sustaining healthy behaviors beyond the game.”

After the study, the Massachusetts based company Conversage has been working with PreviewLabs to make a non-VR version available that can be played on any computer (including on Chromebooks), tablet, or phone. The vaping prevention intervention has been made SCORM compliant, to allow schools to use it in conjunction with popular Learning Management Systems (LMSs). Schools interesting in using Invite Only can obtain more information on this page. Meanwhile, the play4REAL XR Lab website offers a variety of helpful materials such as a teacher manual and printable assessments for any educators interested in utilizing Invite Only in the classroom.

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About PreviewLabs, Inc.: PreviewLabs is a rapid prototyping studio specializing in game development technology with offices in the U.S. and Belgium. We work with clients all over the world, including game developers, start-ups, and medical and education research institutions. Our prototypes are used to evaluate, improve and pitch virtual reality, augmented reality, console, computer, and mobile game concepts. Learn more at http://previewlabs.com/

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