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  • Writer's pictureKelsey Villacorte

Leveling Up Youth Wellbeing through Gamified Apps

By Kelsey Villacorte

As a Lead UX researcher at the Games and Interactive Technology Lab at CGU, I led a team of 6 researchers in developing a program to promote emotional wellbeing for middle school students using gamified wellness apps. We worked with 3 different external stakeholders to evaluate the efficacy and impact of these wellness resources.


Project Overview

Project Objective

This project involves the implementation of specific features of gamified digital applications, Finch and Kinder World, to encourage prosocial behaviors, improve self-efficacy, and boost self esteem. 


Following our feature analysis of 5 different gamified wellness apps, a local K-8 school, Alverno Heights Academy, reached out to the the GIT Lab with concerns they had about their students' well-being. They were dedicated to providing resources to support their students and we saw an opportunity for collaboration and to observe these wellness apps in action. We partnered with two of the apps identified in our initial analysis, Finch and Kinder World, to develop a comprehensive Wellness Game Testing Program. It was a gratifying moment to see how our initial evaluation evolved into a larger, meaningful project.


The Wellness Game Testing program had a positive and significant impact on students' prosocial behavior. The insights guided the school in designing effective wellness initiatives and resulted in feature recommendations for Finch and Kinder World which informed their roadmap decisions.



Alverno Heights Academy

"Alverno Heights Academy is an independent, Catholic, TK-8th school for girls and boys.. We are dedicated to preparing our students to function in a society as informed, knowledgeable persons, who have the requisite skills to make and implement mature decisions about complex problems."


"Meet your new self care best friend! Finch is a self care pet app that helps you feel prepared and positive, one day at a time. Take care of your pet by taking care of yourself! Choose from a wide variety of daily self care exercises personalized for you.

Finch makes self care finally feel rewarding, lightweight, and fun. Complete quick self care exercises to grow your pet, earn rewards, and improve mental health!"

Kinder World

"Take care of your plants and yourself in a comforting, relaxing and lush atmosphere of your own design, completing daily acts of self-love that make the world a kinder place.

Players will nurture their plants in-game by nurturing themselves in the real world, completing evidence-based wellbeing exercises like emotional naming and expressing gratitude. Every plant in Kinder World is procedurally generated, so your growth is completely unique to you!"



Program Duration

The Wellness Game Testing Program spanned over 8 weeks (August 2023 - January 2024).

Participant Demographics



Focus Groups

In-Depth Interviews

Overall Findings 

During an 8 week program, students using mobile wellness apps had improved outcomes.

The wellness program had a positive effect on identifiers of well-being:

  • 5.64% increase in prosocial behavior

  • 8.96% increase in self-esteem

  • 1.96% increase in self-efficacy

"I like being able to feel understood or being able to communicate in school without disrupting my learning or the class." - 8th Grade student in the Finch group

Students appreciate the effect that the apps have on their feelings or internal state of being.

Students like activities and experiences that connect them with others and provide opportunities for self-expression

Researchers in Action

UX researchers, Kelsey Villacorte and Booker Harrap, at the program's student orientation

UX researchers, Paul Mamac and Kelsey Villacorte, during Kinder World focus groups

UX researchers, Veeksha Balasa and Gini Martinez, during Finch's focus groups

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