Bonder Research Lab is a social enterprise that addresses socioemotional and mental health improvement for millions of youth via game-based solutions.

Video games are a breakthrough weapon against age-old barriers of mental health: stigma, access, and cost. Additionally, we believe well-designed games can increase treatment efficacy to levels that previously required intensive therapy, far beyond the previous generation of self-treatment tools (e.g. e-learning or self-help books) or drugs.

  • Youth 10-21
  • Undiagnosed
  • Range of comorbid mental health issues e.g. depression, anxiety, mild bipolar, isolation
  • Wellness model
Primary aim:
  • improve delivery of proven treatments;
  • improve on existing treatments;
  • integrate assessment, treatment, and maintenence
Primary mechanisms:
  • Socioemotional skills: Psychology research has identified a variety of learnable socioemotional skills that could prevent greater harm and reduce suffering in teens’ journey to adulthood.
  • Socioemotional skills: Psychology research has identified a variety of learnable socioemotional skills that could prevent greater harm and reduce suffering in teens’ journey to adulthood.
  • Connection: We believe strong, healthy relationships with kind, well-informed peers and mentors are crucial to preventing a host of teen selfharm, including eating disorders and suicide.
  • Resilience: Teens lack opportunities to grow up: to experiment with moderately dangerous parts of the adult world, and thus build resilience and define themselves through action.

Our customers are the millions of teens who are at risk of depression. We also serve the parents and caring professionals who support these teens.

Core values:
  • Applied Research: Our products apply theory from psychology, media research, and video game research, in novel ways.
  • Aim high. We aim to make breakthrough products in both efficacy and scale (millions of teens).
  • User-centered. Teens co-create Bonder’s products, along with veterans from video game designers, psychologists, and marketing experts.
  • Evidence based. An important part of our innovation addresses this difficulty by improving our methods. We research integrated measurement of effectiveness in our interventions.

Surviving Independence: Due for release in 2015, Surviving Independence is a single-player simulation of foster teen’s struggle to survive independently that motivates foster teens to engage in independent living training.

  • SpyMaster is a “stealth therapy” game that adapts cognitive based therapy to a two-player co-operative casual game experience.
  • Playself is a self-expressive game where teens create a a dollhouse-style playable model of their real-world life – work, friends, school, romance. Teens have a nonverbal way to share their life, hopes, dreams, fears, and vision of reality with people who care about them.
  • CrowTeam is an online game-based peer therapy experience. Based on a highly effective in-person cognitive-based therapy intervention, CrowTeam is an ongoing role-play support group of teens suffering from depression.
  • Houses is a MMO mod that prevents suicide and mental illness in teens by building deep, meaningful relationships from the shallow, tactical relations typical in online gaming communities. Recruiting the isolated, vulnerable teens who play online games, Houses makes it fun to deepen player relationships into lifelong friends that might later save their life.
Business Structure

We are a social enterprise (b-corp). We fund our development with SBIR grants, which are only awarded to for-profit businesses, but we are committed to using our profits to further our social mission.

Marketing Strategy

We primarily market products directly to end users (teens and/or parents). Our products typically fit one of two value propositions. One offers a pure entertainment experience: treatment is stealth. The other blends entertainment with an overt self-help elearning course.

Secondarily, we adapt our product to fit the needs and models of intermediaries (insurance companies, schools, employers, service agencies). We distribute and sell via app stores, web, Steam and console marketplaces. We choose to make these secondary markets because these customers need a great deal of support such as custom curriculum, deployment support, and have institutional norms that can conflict with our fundamental approach.

Primarily, we seek partnerships with nonprofits that share our mission and our approach (direct to consumer), the resources to raise awareness of new ways to achieve overlapping shared missions (e.g. socioemotional / mental health in youth).

For our products that attract end users (e.g. casual games with stealth therapy), we will market original products directly to them, using guerrilla PR strategies such as social media presence, crowdsource campaigns, and seeking TV and mass media coverage.

We raise awareness of our products using “indie game” approaches e.g direct consumer engagement via blogging, partnerships with outreach organization, SEO, limited advertising, and PR campaigns aimed at earning mainstream media attention.

Secondarily, we promote suitable products in institutional settings, including juvenile justice, foster care, public school, workplace, and healthcare.

Scientific Rigor and Ethics

We follow both FDA and NIH research standards regarding both scientific rigor and ethical concerns. Our research typically involves human subjects and is generally categorized low risk, and our products typically do not require FDA approval. We obtain IRB approval from NIH-approved research institutions such as OHRI for our grant-funded research. We typically conduct randomized controlled trials in the field using prototypes of our product. We use mixed methods including subject behaviors reported by the product, pre and post self-reports, and observation methods typical of design research, to report on both outcomes and motivations and access to internal thoughts, feelings and other nuanced insights into user experience. We generally share our findings in appropriate peer-reviewed journals and conferences.


Josh Whitkin, Ph.D, is a veteran commercial video game developer, credits on over 20 games. Josh has founded two successful small business. Josh’s doctorate is from the School of Design, Curtin University from his research on the theory of activity-goal alignment in serious game design. Josh was a founding employee at Interzone, a $10m MMORPG startup, built and managed two production teams totalling 50 employees. As Researcher/Designer at Northwest Media, Josh has been PI on several SBIR grants that use video games for social good. See more detail at

Isabela Granic, Ph.D, is currently Professor in the Developmental Psychopathology department at Radboud University Nijmegen. Her research identifies what sorts of interventions work for anxious, depressed and aggressive children and adolescents, why they often fail to work, and how to improve interventions in innovative ways. The mental health benefits of gaming is currently her main research focus. Her review of the mental health benefits of playing video games was recently published in American Psychologist, see: Granic et al., in press_AP). Dr. Granic is driven to bridge developmental science and game design in order to create a suite of evidence-based games that can be widely disseminated to build children’s emotional resilience.

Edward Kravitz, PhD is a former assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine and published researcher with many years of direct clinical experience working with teens and young adults.

Our advisors include Lee White, CEO of Northwest Media, with over 20 years experience with SBIR funding of innovative technology social service interventions and trainings. bio


Bonder Lab
4485 Pleasant Valley Court
Oakland, CA 94611

Josh Whitkin, CEO (no dash)