Artificial Characters tested by Patients at Karolinska Institutet

by Marie Sjölinder

KARMA is a joint research project between Karolinska Institutet’s department for endocrinology, Mando AB and SICS. The project targets the development of a character-based therapeutic application for eating disorders, such as anorexia.

The application is intended to make the treatment accessible for the patients in their everyday environment, primarily at home, but also at school or at work.

The system consists of several artificial characters with different purposes. The main character answers questions that patients with eating disorders typically ask. The system also provides several leisure activities to distract and entertain, as patients with eating disorders tend to become far too focused on their disease.

The system is developed using a user-centred, prototype-based iterative process. As a result of these studies, the need of the different characters and their purposes evolved. One of the characters is designed as a kind old man who gives advice. This character has the role of being positive and encouraging to help the patients maintaining their motivation. The other character is designed as a pet for the patients to care for, look after and play with. The aim with this character is to distract the patients from the disease.

Figure 1
This character answers questions that patients with eating disorders typically ask. The character has been designed in collaboration with the patients.

The user studies showed the importance of providing a home-like virtual environment for the artificial characters to ‘live’ in. In fact, this was found to be especially important for this user group, since they often have bad memories of cold sterile hospital environments. The users liked the idea of ‘mini-games’ providing distraction within the application and even came up with several suggestions of their own. To be able to capture user needs and preferences, several different research methods have been used, for example ‘Cultural Probes’ when selecting functionalities to enhance motivation and provide distraction, ‘Repertory Grid Technique’, for appearance, looks and ‘personality’ of the characters, and ‘Wizard of Oz’ for dialogue between artificial character and patients. The system has been implemented in the Half-life2 game engine and works to such a level that we can collect dialogue with users through a Wizard of Oz study. These dialogues will provide material for the basis of the final system that will be implemented during the autumn of 2006.


Please contact:
Marie Sjölinder, SICS, Sweden
Tel: +46 8 633 1500