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Interview with Maretha de Jonge

Applied gaming as part of therapy for selective mutism

Maretha de Jonge:"A fearful little dragon gets them talking." A child that speaks freely at home, but is utterly silent in school: selective mutism. Behavioral therapy helps, but given the disorder's rarity, not many therapists have access to the right tools. Expert Maretha de Jonge has developed a web-based space for therapists, teachers, parents and children, crammed with how-to-knowledge.

Selective mutism is classified as an anxiety disorder. But psychologist and behavioral therapist Maretha de Jonge thinks that in some cases she's dealing with a developmental disorder, possibly related to autism. “I was intrigued by these children from the start. They are usually anxious and strong at the same time, able to withhold their speech consistently over a long period of time. A positive character trait, willpower, is turned into a handicap.”

Cacaphony Castle

“The idea of a web based therapeutic environment, incorporating a serious game, took shape in 2009. I set up a foundation for the treatment of selective mutism. The game, 'Luiderslot' (free translation: Cacophony Castle), invites children into a tower, which is stripped of all color and sound due to the misfortunes of a clumsy little dragon. It needs the child's help to fill the castle with life again, level by level, completed under the supervision of a therapist. Since 2011, the game has been played by 150 children in the Netherlands and Flanders.”

“We created a hybrid game that’s fun to play and therapeutic whilst it also stores valuable data for further research. I much enjoyed the creative process of working with 'my' game developers. I came up with the castle, then they suggested a kick-ass dragon, whereupon I morphed it into a shy little creature to make the child play the hero part.”

Overcoming fear is part of the game.

New applications

De Jonge is now turning her experience with applied gaming to the development of a game for psychosis sufferers, which is designed to improve concentration. Her group is also involved in a trial with an existing game for psychiatric patients, intended to develop the ability to simultaneously relax and concentrate on a certain task.

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