Empathy is often defined as “walking a mile in another person’s shoes.” A research project in Oshawa hopes to change the transmitter of empathy from footwear….to a video game.
TeachingCity Oshawa and Oshawa Senior Community Centres are collaborating with Ontario Tech University (OTU) on a project called the “Age Friendly Competency Game”.
Adam Dubrowski, Research Chair in Health-Care Simulation at Faculty of Health Sciences at OTU, is one of the seven members of the project that began in May 2020.
“Globally, 6 to 7 per cent of the population is over the age of 55,” says Dubrowski, when asked why he thought this project was necessary. “Within 5 to 10 years, it’ll be more towards 15 per cent.”
Such a shift in demographics necessitates the creation of age-friendly communities. Dubrowski states another challenge is combating ageism.
“Many young people, who are often service providers, be it at the city [of Oshawa] or OSCC may not understand the physiological, psychological, cognitive and social changes [that seniors experience].”
“We don’t have a magic wand for the ageing process,” he remarked, before elaborating on a project that sounds like the next best thing.
In simplistic terms, Dubrowski and his colleague Bill Kapralos from the faculty of Business and Information Technology are working on a computer-based two-dimensional video game.
Like the uber-popular Call of Duty franchise, the game utilizes the first-person point of view, but instead of defeating computer-generated enemy soldiers, users will be learning how to interact with senior citizens.
“It’s called experiential learning,” says Dubrowski, “and is based on Kolb’s learning cycle.”
The first stage of the process is referred to as ‘initial exposure’. Users watch vignettes on-screen that present interactions between young and old individuals. An example would be an older adult walking out of an elevator slowly, thereby frustrating the young person stuck behind him.
Once they watch the video, the users answer a quiz regarding what was right and wrong in the interaction. Both the questions and the videos would target certain behaviours that need to be addressed over the course of the learning process.
The second stage focuses on providing feedback to the users, based on their responses to the quizzes.
“We are aiming for a blended learning style,” says Dubrowski, explaining that alongside the videogame users will also be provided reading material to help them develop a better understanding of how to interact with seniors.
Pamela Mutombo is the team’s content expert, thanks to her professional qualification as a nurse and prior experience in long-term care facilities. Her insights are added onto existing guidelines published by the World Health Organization in its Age-Friendly Initiative, as well as CanMEDS, the framework for healthcare competencies provided by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
Ensuring the user can be educated about the extensive content is the task of Behesta Momand. A Ph.D. student in the Faculty of Health Sciences, she focuses on the instructional design aspect of the project.
The third stage, known as “active experimentation”, relies on the expertise of the third member of the team, Andrei Torres. A Ph.D. graduate of Computer Science and teaching assistant at OTU, Torres designs the video game in which users can choose the role of either a young person or a senior.
Dubrowski says the possibilities are vast in terms of simulating different aspects of the ageing process. For example, users will be able to see signs of frustration and anxiety in the senior citizen they are interacting with when playing as a service provider. Conversely, when playing the role of a senior, their vision could be blurred, their hearing impeded, their movement made unstable.
Dubrowski believes the video game can be ported over to a virtual reality environment, though it is important to analyze “what extra value it brings.”
For now, experts at TeachingCity have settled on a computer or laptop-based video game since it’s most accessible to the target users: the front-end staff at the City of Oshawa and OSCC.
Lynda Lawson from the City of Oshawa and Celeste Adams from OSCC are the sixth and seventh members of this team, providing the kind of user feedback and input that makes this project a “community-based participatory research.”
Not surprisingly, the project has been affected by COVID-19.
“For sure it slowed us down,” Dubrowski says, explaining that along with general upheaval wrought by the pandemic, they’ve also had to abandon a key aspect of the project.
“We wanted to bring in senior citizens in Oshawa [to OTU] for a kind of focus group.”
Even though their research has migrated to online video conferencing platforms, Dubrowski hopes the videogame will be ready for a soft launch by the end of summer, just a couple of months later than expected.
“We want to become an age-friendly community,” says Julie MacIsaac, Director of Innovation and Transformation for the City of Oshawa.
She explained how the decision to give this project the green light was influenced by the City of Oshawa joining the W.H.O.’s Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities in January 2020.
Videogames have long been accused of inducing anything from attention deficit disorder to aggression in users. But with the completion of this particular TeachingCity project, there’ll be a videogame that’ll help many in Oshawa….become better allies of the elderly.