Recently, there has been an explosion in the awareness and study of student mental health. Multiple studies have shown that compromised mental health often leads to decreased motivation, heightened stress, and decreased motor function, all of which serve to further deteriorate one’s mental health (Accordino & Slaney, 2000; Weissinger & Iso-Ahola, 2013; Rouse, 2011).

Students often experience the perfect storm of these internal factors, combined with external pressures of increased responsibilities, academic rigor, social expectations, and other common characteristics of young adulthood. This has led many to characterize student mental health, especially on university campuses, as a “crisis” (CBC News, 2019; The Guardian, 2019; Forbes, 2019).

Psychological studies have also shown the power of positive reinforcement and habit formation in effecting positive change in mental health (Sigler & Aamidor, 2005; Gardner, Lally, & Wardle, 2012). Just as negative behaviours and negative thoughts mutually reinforce each other, positive behaviours and thoughts do the same.

In this project, we channel all of this information and combine it with our passion for technology into a mobile application: XtraLyfe. XtraLyfe provides a simple, entertaining context to a student’s otherwise mundane daily tasks. We aim to break the overwhelming, repetitive stress of continuous task management by placing it in the context of a game, giving users a sense of progress that positively reinforces their behaviour, rewards positive habit formation, and ultimately, improves their mental health to empower them to develop these skills on their own.

What it does

Picture this: You get out of bed and walk into the kitchen. You see some bread and fruit that you know you should eat for breakfast, but you’re not sure you’re in the mood. You have to go to 6 lectures today, and 3 exams coming up in the next week. You’re also trying to learn a song for your upcoming piano recital. You think back to this past week, and how this same stress has start to become all too familiar.

Now picture this: You’re a futuristic space explorer, charting your conquest of the galaxy. Your spaceship has an odometer, and you’ve become addicted to the thrill of increasing those miles. As you fly, you fight asteroids and other obstacles, earning gold for every step of your mission. Your handy-dandy camera captures proof of your journey. Each day, you conquer new obstacles, becoming stronger as each leg of your journey passes by.

Our application aims to bridge the former, mundane situation with the excitement of the latter. It places the user in the driver's seat of a futuristic space exploration scenario, where tasks are represented by miles travelled, gold accumulated, collectibles collected, and asteroids destroyed. The user sets their identity with something they’re all too familiar with: their school login. Their class schedules and other daily routines (ex. meals) are automatically imported into the app every day, and users are incentivized to attend/complete them as, using GPS and timers, their attendance/completion is rewarded with in-game accomplishments (miles travelled, gold earned).

Users can also input their comparably long-term goals (ex. exams, learning a new skill), represented as asteroids for them to destroy over the course of time. Their gold can be exchanged for collectibles, allowing them to personalize their journey and take ownership of their progress.

Finally, none of this would be effective if users were not held accountable for completion of tasks — our application also encourages users to take pictures of their meals, classrooms, outdoor excursions, etc. This enables users to not only charter their journey, but also enables the app to confirm completion of tasks.

All of this is meant to foster positive habits through positive reinforcement. As the user interacts with the application, our hope is that they become less reliant on the application’s entertainment focus, and can instead incentivize themselves to see their responsibilities as positive steps along their life journey, over which they feel ownership and control.

How We built it

We use React-native to build this application, writing our frontend and backend from scratch. We used a MongoDB database to store all persistent data, and used GCP to deal with the photo feature mentioned.

What's next for XtraLyfe

There are many improvements we hope to make to facilitate our application’s integration into the lives of our users. Firstly, implementing any sort of speech/audio input/output would provide an alternate means of interacting with our application, encouraging its expansion. Furthermore, we hope to integrate texts/notifications/reminders into the application, in case the user does not remember to log their progress themselves. Finally, since the focus of this entire application traces back to mental health, having professionals (possibly as NPCs in the application) could also be beneficial to helping users take ownership of their progress, and ultimately, become strong, positive actors in their own lives.

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