Adolescents who are struggling with substance misuse, mental health issues, and/or issues around sexual health, such as preventing sexually transmitted infections, have an unlikely resource—video games.
Playbl is a digital behavioral health company, spun out from Yale School of Medicine’s play2PREVENT Lab, which harnesses the power of play through interactive games focused on mental health, substance misuse, and sexual health to help adolescents live happier and healthier lives.
Their five games are geared toward youth ages 10 – 20, but have customizations for the various age groups within the range.
Much goes into the development of these tools. “Our games are informed by theoretical constructs, built with the input from behavioral scientists and other content experts, and tested using the most rigorous scientific methods, such as a randomized controlled trial design, following hundreds of teens for up to two years, demonstrating impact,” said Lynn E. Fiellin, MD, professor of medicine (general medicine) in Yale’s Department of Internal Medicine and founding director of play2PREVENT Lab.
In addition to experts, the team works with teenagers to help design the games to ensure that each one produced is authentic and relatable. According to Fiellin, users of the games often ask to play more because of how engaging and compelling they are.
Over the past 13 years, Fiellin has seen how the video games produced by the play2 PREVENT Lab help those struggling and the positive health outcomes they produce. Having published over 25 papers in peer-reviewed journals, the video games have also recently been included in the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office Resources for Youth Mental Health and one of the games is also included in Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Evidence-Based Resource Guide Series on Reducing Vaping Among Youth and Young Adults.
In order to reach more teens, the team founded Playbl in January 2021 as a new company to focus on the marketing and distribution of the games. “There was an enormous demand during the COVID-19 pandemic and we established Playbl as a sister organization to the lab, but with the specific goal of getting our games into as many kids’ hands around the world. We know the demand is there since we receive about 50 requests per week for our games, and we have distributed close to half a million logins. Playbl will help facilitate this mission of increased access and scale.”
Recently the Playbl team was recognized by the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale, their second award from the organization since Playbl’s inception.
“We were lucky to be awarded two Blavatnik Innovation Awards to complete additional technologies—like a user engagement data dashboard and a customer enrollment system—while working with our long-standing partners, to accompany our game,” said Fiellin.
Securing the funding from the Blavatnik Foundation meant a lot, says Fiellin. “These awards have been critical in helping Playbl build technologies that enhance the use of our games by myriad customers. The support from the Blavatnik Awards, as well as the consistent support from folks at Yale Ventures has been invaluable. Playbl has benefited greatly from both the financial and structural support and we are grateful for it.”
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