Changing Your Mind(set): Games to focus intention and modify beliefs in support of health and well-being

Changing Your Mind(set): Games to focus intention and modify beliefs in support of health and well-being

United States
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We create “mindset” games to empower consenting adults to discover and modify beliefs which interfere with health, healing, and well-being.

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Plot your innovation within the mosaic of solutions
Which of these barriers is the primary focus of your work?

Product Design Orientation

Which of the principles is the primary focus of your work?

Emotional Health

If you believe some other barrier or principle should be included in the mosaic, please describe it and how it would affect the positioning of your initiative in the mosaic:

Empowering Beliefs and Attitudes reach across emotional health, physical health, cognitive health, well being, and beyond. Different disciplines use different vocabulary (such as placebo effect, growth mindset, optimism, and self efficacy) but research consistently demonstrates the power of expectations to influence physical and emotional health, learning and academic achievement and other indicators of worldly success. Medicine and psychiatry focus largely on drugs and surgical interventions. Games could fill a void by addressing belief systems, a key cognitive dimension of healing. Games engage the player in active, first person, interactive performance with great potential, particularly combined with conscious desire on the part of the player, to foster or reinforce healthy beliefs and attitudes. Games could offer a non-invasive approach to personal empowerment.

What is your signature innovation in one sentence?

We create “mindset” games to empower consenting adults to discover and modify beliefs which interfere with health, healing, and well-being.

Describe your innovation. What makes your idea unique and different than others doing work in the field?

Games have enormous potential to change attitudes and beliefs critical to physical, emotional and cognitive health and well-being. Individuals with “growth mindsets” relish challenge and learn more than people with “fixed mindsets.” Those with growth mindsets allocate brain activity to processing new input, while fixed mindsets spend brain power anguishing about how they measure up. Fixed and growth mindsets are somewhat malleable, they can be changed. Optimism is associated with greater persistence, which opens a longer window of opportunity to succeed. Placebo effects and nocebo effects (believing something will NOT help) contribute tangibly to health care outcomes. Increased self-efficacy results in healthier choices. Our big-picture, interdisciplinary approach looks across the boundaries of specific health issues to create the genre of “mindset games” that empower players, particularly consenting adults, to address limiting beliefs and in doing so to improve their lives.

What barriers exist that are creating the problem your innovation is hoping to address/change?

Beliefs are a mishmash of rational thought, intuition, emotions, and personal and cultural norms. We are not conscious of the memories we store or how we connect strands of knowledge. Attitudes and beliefs have powerful impacts on physical and emotional well being, but what we believe and why remains largely unexamined. Games can empower players to discover their beliefs related to a personal goal, reinforcing healthy, growth oriented attitudes and modifying destructive or limiting beliefs.

Delivery Model: How do you implement your innovation and apply it to the challenge/problem you are addressing.

Our games for learning, Brain Powered Games™, and Belief Engine games are all offered online. Built in Flash, they are tied to a database driven service for data collection and in-game adaptability. To meet ethical standards of human subjects research, game and survey data can be collected anonymously. It is also possible, with appropriate consent, to collect data linked to personal data including fMRI brain scans and cognitive performance tests. Our current and future games can easily be deployed worldwide via the internet. We are in launch formal experimental research on Brain Powered Games™ and are in the proposal review stage for Belief Engine games. Focused work on big-picture Changing Your Mind(set) games begins with this submission to the Changemakers competition. Michigan State University will be exploring distribution and marketing partnerships and alternatives to reach large target populations, including the possibility that the games will be freely available.

How do you plan to scale your innovation?

Research will reveal whether and how large an impact mindset games have, both as a complement to medical treatment and therapy and as a standalone “belief booster.” Aspects of what we learn from fundamental research can be applied to many different populations and attitude and belief domains related to physical, emotional, and cognitive health and well-being.

Prototyping and research on a small set of target belief areas will enable us to refine the concept. After several mindset games or diverse audiences and purposes have been designed, refined, and studied, replicating the genre for other domains will be much more rapid than the initial development.

Technologically, the games are highly scalable. A business model (or set of business models for different target domains and players) needs to be developed.

Provide one sentence describing your impact.

Mindset games alter beliefs through priming, role play, rehearsal, dialog, metaphor, modeling, repetition, adaptive progressive challenge and reward.

What impact has your innovation had to date? Exactly who are the beneficiaries of your innovation?

Mindset games have potentially life-enhancing impacts in almost every aspect of health and well being. A key focus of our research is on balancing rewards and in-game, pre-game, and post-game messages to optimize growth mindset, persistence, and placebo effect.The GEL Lab’s game design process closely links design research, fundamental interdisciplinary research and applied research. What we have learned thus far have enhanced the effectiveness of our games and is generally helpful to serious game design of all kinds.
Primary benefits to players thus far have been improvements in learning and cognitive function. We are done with one complete cycle of Brain Powered Games™ development and playtesting and on October 1 launch a 9 month study of individuals 60 to 80, and 2 weeks later we begin beta testing and fundamental research with volunteers aged 40 and older.
Future mindset games will specifically and exclusively address belief structures for health and well being

How many people have you served directly?

Life Preservers (a science learning game) was played by 800 7th graders as part of research on the impact of different reward structures on play style and learning.

Version 2.0 of Brain Powered Games™ is complete. 25 people participated in playtests and focus group interviews. Our first formal experimental Brain Powered Games™ research begins October 1, 2007 and will involve 48 seniors.

30 beta testers are signed up to play Brain Powered Games™ and to serve as research subjects for in-game and survey data collection to allow us to study attitudes and beliefs as they relate to performance and motivation over time.

Our proposed Belief Engine games to enable players to examine and perhaps modify their beliefs about a particular controversial social issue is under review by the National Science Foundation. If funded, those games could potentially reach 2 million visitors to our partner informal science institutions and countless others worldwide who play the games online.

How many people have you served indirectly?

Project Leaders Brian Winn and Carrie Heeter are frequent speakers at serious games, games for health, and games for change conferences. Audiences we have addressed related to important themes, prototypes and research related to the Changing Your Mind(set) mission include Games, Learning and Society, the Serious Games Summit, International Communication Association, Future Play, Games for Health, SIGGRAPH, the Education Arcade, and Designing the User eXperience.

Please list any other measures reflective of the impact of your innovation

Three forthcoming book chapters relate to our research and designs: 1.) Implications of Gender, Player Type and Learning Strategies for the Design of Games for Learning to appear in Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New perspectives in games, gender, and computing, 2.) Design, Play, and Experience: Framework for the Design of Serious Games for Learning and 3.) Player Types and Learning Styles (both 2 and 3 will appear in the Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education).

What are the main barriers to creating your impact?

International research by scientists from a range of disciplines increasingly supports the fundamental premise that beliefs and attitudes impact health and well being and can be changed. Our own game designs and research suggest that games can be designed to encourage an achievement mindset.

The next step is to create and study proof of concept games that specifically and only target mindset. Funding is essential to support game design and development and research to realize this vision.

How is your initiative financed?

Thus far, financing has come from internal support from the Department of Epidemiology, the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, the Michigan Universities Commercialization Initiative, and the PEARL J. ALDRICH FACULTY RESEARCH AWARD. Additional grants are being sought including the National Science Foundation and other sources.

Provide information on your finances and organization: annual budget, annual revenue, number of staff:

Staff directly working on design, research, and grant-writing related to mindset games includes eleven faculty members from Serious Game Design, Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media, Neurology, Epidemiology, Education, Computer Science, and Advertising. We also employ one full time producer, two research assistants, two part time professional programmers, two part time professional artists and two student programmers.
No revenues have been generated. Staff needs right now are not met by volunteers.

What is the potential demand for your innovation?

Personal empowerment is sought, but not yet through games, via organized in-person and online self-help groups such as weight watchers, alcoholics anonymous and smoking cessation programs. Cancer survivors and physical therapy patients, those with chronic illness and those about to undergo surgery could benefit from attitude tuning. Personal enhancement games could help prepare for a test or presentation, a sporting event or a performance. Calming games might reinforce a sense of well-being.

What are the main barriers to financial sustainability?

Universities are financially sustainable, but design and research initiatives at a university are fueled by faculty grant-writing. Michigan State University’s Office of Intellectual Property is considering commercialization potential of Brain Powered Games™ and would take the lead in establishing third party partnerships for Mindset games.

The Story
What is the origin of this innovation? Tell us your story.

Our innovation is collaborative and springs from many sources and many individuals. Major inspirations include the serious game movement and burgeoning scientific advances in neurology and cognitive science, biology, and emotion.

Please read Wired Online Chris Quinn’s interview with Carrie Heeter about Michigan State University’s Serious Game Design program and her own fascination with the potential of games:

And Brian’s Winn’s childhood game design beginnings, described in this State News interview:

See also brief blurbs about delightfully diverse MSU faculty colleagues’ interest in serious games, from 11 departments.

Please visit Neurologist Andrea Bozoki’s Cognitive Disorders and Geriatric Neurology Clinic:

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers marketing material

Carrie Heeter and Brian Winn have collaborated on innovative interactive experiences and research since 1995. They co-founded the Serious Game Design MA track in 2006. Please see Carrie Heeter’s bio at and Brian Winn’s bio at
Andrea Bozoki, Professor of Neurology and Jillian Caywood, producer and researcher extraordinaire have been key players in Brain Powered Games and the emergent Mindset Games initiative.

How did you hear about this contest and what is your main incentive to participate? (this is confidential)

6. Other I received email forwards of the announcement from my department chair, dean of the college, and development officer. Also heard about it through the Serious Games listserv and the Games for Change listserv.

My main incentive, first and foremost, is to mobilize the power of games for health, an initiative richly facilitated by this competition and by the Games for Health conferences. It is important to me and the others on our team to participate in the dialog, to share our work and to learn from others.

Being selected in this competition would confer important credibility internally at the university as well as internationally in academia and serious game industry. It would help attract future students to our Serious Game Design MA program and would improve the chances for favorable review on future grant submissions.