Lessons from 31,000 Young Adult Journal Entries

Lessons from 31,000 Young Adult Journal Entries

Our free mobile self-help app, Shadow’s Edge, has now received over 31,000 journal entries from young adults seeking to build resilience. Here’s what they show.

Our free mobile self-help app, Shadow’s Edge, has now received over 31,000 journal entries from young adults seeking to explore challenges and difficult experiences as a way to build resilience. A few months ago, we took all these journal entries and put them in a big data pool so we can research what players write about and what needs for support they express in the journal entries. As per our privacy policy, the data pool includes only de-identified, written words without any personal information; additionally, we asked several players who were play-testing with us how they feel about their journal entries being anonymized and aggregated for the purpose of research. They answered that if their entries cannot be recognized as their own and if our research has the potential to help others, they are fine with it.

And so, we moved forward. Once we had the data pool, we took about 25% of the entries and started working with automated scripts based on machine learning and also manually assigning keywords to each group of journal entries. Our goal was to group them by theme (the topics the journal entries are about) and by sentiment (the feeling that is associated with the text) and to do some quantitative analysis on how much players write. This is what we learned.

How much our players write

We have a mix of players – those who write a lot think deeply about their entries, others who write more playing with words or creating poetry and finally a group who just put gibberish into the journal to continue playing without going deep into the writing part. In regards to this lsat group, we respect that players don’t always feel like going deep and maybe just want to relax into the game’s other features like art. Both journaling and art can be good for mental health and naturally some players will connect more with one than the other!

The longest journal post is 330 words long (that’s about the length of this blog post up to here), the shortest journal post is 1 word long. Most journal entries are around 15 words – this is consistent across the game phases of Disruption, Disillusionment and Discovery, with slightly more average words per entry in the Discovery phase. Following are the ten most popular prompts in terms of number of words written:

  • What is your *rainbow* after the storm?
  • When was someone *mean* to you?
  • Where do you find *hope*?
  • Put your challenge on the *big screen*!
  • Step over your *shadow*!
  • Who’s *let you down*?
  • When do you put up your *guard?*
  • Have you ever asked “why me?”
  • How are your relationships *changing*?
  • What have you *overheard* that has left you worried?

We noticed that half of the top ten prompts are about relationships and connection. These themes often also come up in player interviews as difficult and impacting the quality of life strongly – so maybe that is why they result in more words than others.

What players write about

Players write most about their mental and emotional state (50%), followed by writing about social relations (28%) or about their physical health (22%). When writing about mental and emotional states, the most frequent topics were dealing with Depression, Anger, Anxiety, Guilt, Shame, or questions about self-worth. There was also a lot of writing about successful strategies for managing these states, including art, drawing, and music. And there were quite a few players – not surprisingly as the game is played mainly by people below 30 – exploring their sexual identity or their relationship with gender identification and about finding their role in life. When writing about relations, entries were often about the relation with parents, about loss of loved ones, isolation, and loneliness, and sometimes also about situations where relations are not safe. When writing about their physical health, players often wrote about conditions they deal with (without mentioning exactly which one) or about living with chronic pain.

When players write

Those players who choose to write deeply about topics seem to do so when something concrete is on their mind in the moment or to process something that has been with them for what sounds like for a long time, but is still influencing their lives.

What sentiment do players express when writing

Both negative and positive sentiments were expressed in a balanced manner. Interestingly, the intensity of expression was stronger for positive sentiment — e.g., expressions of hope and ability to do something had stronger intensity than expressions of hopelessness and despair. We have a feeling our players are people working hard to create a positive impact in their life and that this is reflected in this more intense positive sentiment. Interesting to see was also that the proportion of positive to negative entries increases as players advance in the game.

So, what we do with what we learned?

We are very moved by what this data analysis reveals: our players are dealing with many tough situations and are exploring ways to process these. To further support the journey of our players, these are the kind of topics we will discuss for the future of the game:

  • Based on some of the more difficult themes we see in the journal entries, we want to add links to support resources
  • Based on the themes, potentially provide different paths through the game and provide players a way to choose a specific path.
  • Support players further to build a writing practice – starting with easier, less personal prompts to get into writing more easily.
  • Add an option to skip writing for now and get back to it later to avoid players who don’t feel like writing write now having to put in gibberish to advance in the game.

What would you be interested to learn from what players write about? What would you change in the game based on these findings?