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About Play Higher.

Play Higher is an initiative from the WVU School of Social Work that aims to apply gamification to career development and readiness. We achieve this through novel technological applications such as augmented and virtual reality, simulation, mobile applications, and more. 

In our first project, we partnered with our team of collaborators to create a virtual reality game that simulates the helping process by walking users through the day-in-a-life of a behavioral health social worker's first day on the job. Users meet a client named Kaysi who is in need of help. Through the storyline, users learn how to interact with the client to earn her trust and gather the necessary information to help her. By the end of the game, users learn the importance of four key components of social work practice: open-ended questions, self-determination, person-in-environment, and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Along the way, users earn points for their correct responses to mini-games and challenges in the storyline. They can redeem these points for prizes that will help them decorate their office - a fun way to incentivize the helping process for our target audience of young people.

This game methodology gives students a fun and productive way to engage with the behavioral health career field. A facilitator's guide provides educational content and a K-12 lesson plan as a precursor to the game, as well as debriefing for the students after the game.

Why career development?

West Virginia has been designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (2018) as having a shortage of mental health professionals. One way to increase the number of available mental health providers is through career pipeline programs aimed at middle and high school students, and graduate school pipelines aimed at college students. The goal of such pipeline programs is to increase the enrollment in human service programs that prepare students for careers in behavioral health professions, including social work. This pipeline project is funded by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and led by West Virginia University's School of Social Work.

Why virtual reality?

Virtual reality elicits affective and cognitive reactions that are much stronger than longer-lasting than other game modalities. Simulated experiential learning offers young people the chance to apply their learning to hands-on situations without putting the student or a client at risk. Few students have experiential learning opportunities when it comes to career education in the field of behavioral health. However, virtual reality offers engagement in settings that students would not normally have the opportunity to be in due to time, financial, logistical, and privacy constraints. A virtual reality experience that introduces young people to behavioral health careers and to social work is a novel approach.

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