Background: Opioid misuse and mental disorders are highly comorbid conditions. The ongoing substance misuse and mental health crises among adolescents in the United States underscores the importance of widely scalable substance misuse preventive interventions that also address mental health risks. Serious video games offer an engaging, widely scalable method for delivering and implementing preventive interventions. However, there are no video game interventions that focus on preventing opioid misuse among older adolescents, and there are limited existing video game interventions that address mental health.
Objective: This study aims to develop and conduct a formative evaluation of a video game intervention to prevent opioid misuse and promote mental health among adolescents aged 16-19 years (PlaySmart). We conducted formative work in preparation for a subsequent randomized controlled trial.
Methods: We conducted development and formative evaluation of PlaySmart in 3 phases (development, playtesting, and preimplementation) through individual interviews and focus groups with multiple stakeholders (adolescents: n=103; school-based health care providers: n=51; and addiction treatment providers: n=6). PlaySmart content development was informed by the health belief model, the theory of planned behavior, and social cognitive theory. User-centered design principles informed the approach to development and play testing. The Exploration, Preparation, Implementation, and Sustainability framework informed preimplementation activities. Thematic analysis was used to identify themes from interviews and focus groups that informed PlaySmart game content and approaches to future implementation of PlaySmart.
Results: We developed a novel video game PlaySmart for older adolescents that addresses the risk and protective factors for opioid misuse and mental health. Nine themes emerged from the focus groups that provided information regarding game content. Playtesting revealed areas of the game that required improvement, which were modified for the final game. Preimplementation focus groups identified potential barriers and facilitators for implementing PlaySmart in school settings.
Conclusions: PlaySmart offers a promising digital intervention to address the current opioid and mental health crises among adolescents in a scalable manner.