Last November, we launched our prototype of Apart of Me - the interactive game providing hope and resilience to young people and families when a parent is dying. We gave the game to a broad group of young people, parents, and professionals to test. The results came in at the start of this year, and we are very pleased to share with you the results and some lessons we have learned from this process.

Welcome to your Island

First, the results:

Stats

Our user-testers gave an average answer of 7. 4 out of 10 when asked how likely they were to recommend Apart of Me to a family where someone has a life-limiting illness

Our user-testers gave an average answer of 7. 4 out of 10 when asked how likely they were to recommend Apart of Me to a family where someone has a life-limiting illness?’ This rose to 8.1 if certain planned improvements were to be made.

We are overjoyed with this feedback, as this tells us we are clearly on the right track, and that the game as it stands is already offering great value to young people in this situation.

Around 50% of all ours users, across iOS and Android, were actively using the prototype one month after they had first installed it

We also learned from in-app analytics that around 50% of all ours users, across iOS and Android, were actively using the prototype one month after they had first installed it.

This again was very good news for us, as it indicates that Apart of Me offers value to users over time.

Finally, we got some really encouraging bits of feedback, and lots of constructive criticism which we are now excited about feeding into Phase 2.

Here is a sample of the feedback from our user-testers:

Feedback

If we’d had this game available to us when my wife was still alive…she would have enjoyed helping our son create a memory box and having set tasks to do would’ve made this daunting task more manageable for her. – Mandy, widow and mother of 2 boys

This game is bloomin’ fantastic – April Shipton, Fundraising and Marketing Officer, Hope Matters

What’s amazing and unique about AOM is children can create a legacy alongside their ill family member… it provides a fun, interactive way to prompt and bridge conversations which can sometimes be extremely difficult to do, also creating a digital resource that will be invaluable for future generations.” – Olly Clabburn, PHD, Lost a parent to MND. Investigating the use of digital legacies for people living with motor neurone disease

So, what are the key lessons we have learned so far?

It’s difficult to know what young people really want, until you put the game/app/’thing’ in their hands and watch them play with it.

We were lucky to have been able to run a series of focus groups before developing Apart of Me. In these focus groups, we gave a few example apps to young people and asked them to play with them and give us feedback. We quickly realised that unless there was a game element, they were very unlikely to keep using it. But when we were building the prototype, we could only be sure that what we had created was working when we put it in the hands of our young users and watched them play.

It’s exciting to create digital tools that facilitate real-life interaction.

We always knew when embarking on this journey that we wanted users to interact with their family in more open, healthy ways. But we knew that for young users (and plenty of adults) starting with a digital tool was a good way of doing this. We have enough evidence now from Phase 1, specifically through the ‘Messages In Bottles’ function on the island, that it is not only possible, but actually really very exciting to encourage families to interact with each other more in real-life, prompted by a digital tool. Improving this will be a key fearure of Phase 2.

There are probably easier subject areas to design solutions for!

Death is a complicated area. There is still a great deal of taboo around death, and this makes it harder to talk openly about. This also made it challenging to find relevant user-testers. In the end, through a combination of intensive social media activity and persistent networking we pulled together a highly relevant group of testers.

There is a lot of exciting work happening in this area.

Although death has been a taboo subject, during the last 2 years we have connected with some amazing, and inspiring projects doing work in this area. Here are some of our favourites:

Jon Underwood’s Death Cafe. We had the pleasure to chat with Jon about the game (which he was really excited about) and to learn more about his Death Cafe movement. At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. Their objective is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.

Life. Death. Whatever. We loved connecting with Anna Lyons and Louise Winter at their wonderful Life DEath Whatever exhibition. It was very encouraging to see such a creative, and playful approach to exploring death.

Ivor Williams’ Cove. Ivor has become a good friend of ours over the last year, and we are honoured to have his company. Ivor is a brilliant designer who created Cove, the musical app to support young people through bereavement.

Hope Support Services, a fantastic charity doing loads of amazing work supporting young people when someone in the family has a life-threatening illness. We are currently in some very exciting discussions about our partnership with them. Watch this space.

And now?

Our next phase of development is going to concentrate on four key aspects:

1. The Treehouse

Treehouse Phase 2

Our message in a bottle feature is designed to guide young people in building up a virtual “memory box”, prompting them to ask important questions of their loved one and gather images and video “memories” before it’s too late. In Phase 2 we plan on allowing users to view and curate these memories in their own personal “treehouse” space.

2. An Interactive Environment

Interactive Environment

Our beta testers told us they loved the idea of growing, cultivating and building the environment within the game. This will allow users to customise their island while also allowing us more opportunities for exploring life and death in our safe virtual environment. This also allows us to add the ability for users to share their own ‘power-ups’ with other users, giving them a real sense of being able to help others who are going through hard times.

3. The Cave

Cave Phase 2

The Cave was one of our testers’ favourite areas in the game due to its immersive design and the sense of entering into a world within a world. We plan on enriching the cave, making it more immersive and giving our experienced users the ability to add their own audio stories

4. The Companion App

Parent Companion App

We will create a companion app for Apart of Me, this will provide vital information to parents and carers about how to talk to young people about death and dying. It will also allow parents and carers to upload images and stories directly to the Apart of Me servers, allowing our younger users to incorporate them into their treehouse.

More details

Thanks for reading! For more details about the project see the Apart of Me page.