Brian Orlando | Product + UX Designer
Brian Orlando

Pioneer | AR Game Concept to Improve Mental Health

A game designed to get people outdoors.



An Augmented Reality Game that Get's People Walking in Nature Habitually to Improve Mental Health


MHCI+D Ideation Studio project at the University of Washington in collaboration with Pop Cap Games with Emily Dobbins and Conor Kelly

My Role
Research, Synthesis, Sketching, Visual Design

Oct - Dec 2016 (8 weeks)


In collaboration with Pop Cap Games, we were tasked with creating a game or app that promotes a positive behavior change in a personal, social, or environmental way. Through extensive research, ideation, and refinement, our team created a high fidelity concept that accomplished this goal.


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For our research process, we conducted secondary research on mental health, behavior change, and game design. We wanted to create a fun and engaging way of improving mental wellness. From what we learned, we created a design question.


Secondary Research

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Spending just 90 minutes in nature can improve your mental wellness.
— Gregory N. Bratman, Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation

To begin the research process, our team conducted extensive secondary research on frameworks, models, and best practices pertaining to behavior change, game design, and mental health.


Design Question

How might we promote long-term mental wellness by employing game design and behavior change?


Once we had our design principles set, we conducted a variety of ideation techniques such as a brain dump, sketching, morphological synthesis, and storyboarding. These allowed us to converge our ideas into a final concept.


Brain Dump

To externalize some of our hiking and outdoor knowledge, we created a visual Brain Dump to help foster some ideas prior to concept sketching.



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rapid sketching 2

We conducted 3 timed sketching sessions and created 53 different concepts. Following our timed sketches, we then created a set of higher fidelity sketches to inspire further ideation.

rapid sketching

Morphological Synthesis

Morpha-what? Taking some of our favorite concepts into account, our team now had to converge these into a single unified concept. We conducted what's known as a morphological synthesis to create meaningful themes from our most promising concepts. The result was 3 themes: communal narrative, skill building and mental wellness. This is an awesome technique for creating thematic groupings from a wide range of ideas.


Now that we had a set of 3 themes to work with from our morphological synthesis, we had to translate those themes into specific behaviors that we could incorporate into a single concept: Habitual Nature Seeking, Natural Immersion and Collaborative Play


From the 3 behaviors, we then created a set of core game mechanics to encourage behavior change, and drive engaging gameplay. These core mechanics were then incorporated into our final game concept: Pioneer.



To put Pioneer in it’s context of use, we created a storyboard to demonstrate how the game mechanics would address the 3 targeted behaviors. In the storyboard, Dave is motivated to walk in a nearby nature park by accepting a Gathering Quest on his phone. As soon as Dave reaches a nearby park, he starts to collect Grit and Resources by entering Gathering Mode via the wearable app. In this mode, Dave doesn’t have to look at a phone or wearable screen to the play the game, and is therefore being immersed in nature. When he leaves the park, Dave spends his collected Resources and Grit on his Faction’s Settlement, thereby participating in collaborative play.



Once we decided on a final direction, we created an interaction flow, wireframes, and a final set of high fidelity mockups. The result was Pioneer, a frontier-themed augmented reality game that motivates nature seekers and people who want to improve their mental health to regularly walk in natural areas.


Interaction Flow

To understand the progression of the game, we developed an interaction flow to show how tutorials would fit into the main game. We used a circular flow to demonstrate the ongoing nature of the game.



To makes sense of our game mechanics and ideas, we sketched a series of screens that represented the core functionality of Pioneer’s gameplay.


Final Mockups

Pioneer is a frontier-themed augmented reality game that motivates nature seekers and people who want to improve their mental health to regularly walk in natural areas.


Pioneer seeks to get people walking in green spaces habitually, it encourages players to work together both digitally and in-person, and it teaches people to enjoy the benefits of full, undistracted immersion in natural areas.

Grit + Resource Collection
After earning enough Resources and Grit, players in the same faction can work together to fortify their settlements. Teamwork helps build a strong faction.

Gathering Mode
In this mode, the game will enter a passive state so that players can be immersed in nature while they collect Resources and Grit.

Factions + Territory
This is the map view of the game where players can see which factions control what territories nearby.

pioneer presentation

We presented our concept to Pop Cap Games and other game professionals and received awesome feedback.


Final Thoughts

Creating Pioneer was an awesome experience that allowed our team to explore creative ways of employing game design and behavior change tactics to create habits that promote positive health and well-being. Today, many companies often employ these tactics in detrimental ways that do not provide any real value to a person.  As a designer, I think it's important to use behavior change and game design in ethically sound ways that actually benefit the individual, not just a company's bottom line or KPI.

Imagine the positive impact we could make if we all employed game design and behavior change tactics for good.