Motivational Interviewing in Crossroads

Motivational interviewing is a technique included in the Crossroads games to help people understand why they stay in a negative situation.

When we sat down to create a game-based application to teach decision-making in high-risk situations, we didn’t just make the first thing that came to mind. We worked with counselors in substance abuse treatment and prevention programs, vocational rehabilitation and schools to discuss what theories and techniques made the most sense.

Game character thinking about her aunt's substance abuse
What’s motivational interviewing have to do with Auntie Lynn?

Motivational interviewing is based on the assumption that people who engage in substance abuse and other risk behaviors have motives that both promote and discourage behaviors. In short, there are reasons that people do things and sometimes they’re in conflict. It’s not that people don’t know that living with someone addicted to pain pills is a bad situation. Sometimes, though, there is the conflict between,

“Yeah, people who creep me out come to the house”


“She pays the bills and I don’t know where I’d get a job and get money if I moved out.”

Resolving these conflicting motives is key to behavioral change.

Why are all of these choices bad?

In one part of Crossroads: New Decisions where the player has to choose, in one screen, the bad parts of living with her aunt and, in another, the good parts. The first screen is shown below. When you click on these choices, more appear. All are negative.

Recently, I was asked why all of these options were negative. Shouldn’t we have some positive ones so we can mark “right” or “wrong” in our data the choices the players selected.

?? Nope.

The purpose of this task is to help players identify what are the negative aspects about their particular situations. There is a second set of screens where players are asked to identify the good things about the situation with Jessie and Auntie Lynn. There is also a third set where the player identifies what he or she can and cannot change about the situation

Interactive Journals and Motivational Interviewing

Some counselors have used interactive journals where the client writes their responses to prompts like these and then the counselor provides written feedback. In theory, this is a great idea for extending counseling time, especially in rural areas where transportation, travel time to the clinic and a shortage of counselors all make it difficult to find have adequate in-person counseling. For a variety of reasons we’ll discuss later, students or clients often simply don’t do the interactive journal writing.

(If you’re interested in learning more about motivational interviewing, a good place to start is Motivational interviewing: Helping people change by Miller & Rollnick).


Get it from Google Play for Android Phones

Apple icon - get Crossroads: New Decisions from the app store

Get it from the app store for iPhones

We are in the process of developing these games, so if you have any suggestions or comments we would love to hear them! You can post below or email

Everyone needs a plan

Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.

Richard Cushing

Before I was president of a software company, I was the world judo champion. It’s true. You can look it up in Wikipedia. I also ran track in college. Since then, I have coached hundreds of kids.

What does this all have to do with games to teach decision-making?

I’ve told players a thousand times,

When you’re in the middle of a match is not the time to think of your strategy.


What Crossroads: New Decisions and Crossroads: Options do is put players in situations in a virtual world where they can think about what they would do if they had to get away from an abusive relationship or were stuck in the middle of a party that’s gotten out of hand.

Maybe you’ve never thought very much about who you could go to stay with for a few days if you need to get out of a bad situation. Perhaps you’ve never really thought it through, that if you need to get away from someone right now it can be done in stages. You could go to that person who will let you stay for a week or so while you figure out what to do next.

If you’re going to be on your own some day, you need to start thinking about what bills you’ll have to pay, how much you’ll have to make each month. Next step is finding a job. How do you pick a job? Even if you’re talking entry level jobs, there are choices. Which would be a better fit for you?

Where do you draw the line that someone is just bad news and you don’t want them in your life?

When you’re in an emotional situation, whether it’s dating violence or trying to figure out how to get home when you’re in the middle of nowhere and all of your friends are wasted, that’s not when you’re going to make your best decisions.

Does having thought about the possibilities in advance guarantee you’ll always make the right choice?

No, of course not, just like planning a strategy in practice doesn’t guarantee you will win. I can promise you this, though – it will improve your odds.

Crossroads: New Decisions

Crossroads: New Decisions addresses 6 common topics in adolescence such as DUI, budgets and depression.

New Decisions is one of two games we offer for players age 13 and older. The other is Crossroads: Options. Although players can benefit from playing either game, we recommend beginning with New Decisions.

Players begin by being introduced to our main character, Jessie. They learn how to play the game and customize their own avatar. They can spend money they earn in each module in the clothing, furniture and gift store. More stores open in the second game.

Crossroads: New Decisions covers six topics

  1. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  2. Unsupervised teen parties
  3. Budgeting
  4. Safety plan
  5. Motivational interviewing
  6. Assessment: Depression and Adverse Childhood Events

Driving under the Influence

You’re drunk but your friend doesn’t look that high. What should you do?

In this scenario, you’ve had quite a few beers, you have no money and one of your friends looks less high than the rest. What should you do? Pick the correct answer and play a driving game where Grandma comes to pick you up in a snowmobile. Also, earn money you can spend in our virtual mall. Get it wrong and hear the consequences.

Unsupervised Parties

What do you do when the party gets out of control?

Where did you get that alcohol or drugs you were driving under the influence of? Oh, right, at that party where the parents weren’t home. Select the right choice when things start getting out of hand. Once you have cleaned the place up, go in the backyard and play a game where you whack all the gophers. Get paid for every gopher and spend that money (virtually) wherever you like.

Making a Budget

Go in that house and find all the bills – first, cross the basketball court at the park to get there

When you have money problems, where do you even start? Get across the basketball court to your house. Try finding all your bills and making a budget. Search through every room. You can keep all the money you find and spend it in the store.

Safety Plan

Help me pack a safety bag

Do you know what a safety plan is? Start learning about it with packing a safety bag. You have one minute to find everything on the list.

Motivational Interviewing

Identify what you can and cannot change, and what is good and bad about a situation

Most situations have good and bad about them. Most people do, too. In this module, help Jessie identify what she does and doesn’t like about her situation. Next, help her determine what she can and cannot change about her life.

Assessment: Depression and ACES

Where is Jessie and why is she upset?

In the assessment module, you’ll find Jessie and then complete a depression inventory, answer some questions on relationships and events in your childhood.

Now that you’ve read about Crossroads: New Decisions, I’m sure you’re dying to know where to get it.

Get it from Google Play for Android Phones

Apple icon - get Crossroads: New Decisions from the app store

Get it from the app store for iPhones

Crossroads: Options

Options is the second of two games we offer for players age 13 and older. The other is Crossroads: New Decisions. Although players can benefit from playing either game alone, we recommend beginning with New Decisions. Players who completed the first game will find all their objects purchased still in their virtual home and all their remaining cash carried over. The games do follow a logical order, with a budget made in New Decisions and then in Options, finding and keeping a job to cover expenses.

Crossroads: Options covers the following topics:

  1. Dating Violence (Healthy and Dysfunctional Relationships)
  2. Avoiding Drug Use
  3. Finding a Job (Financial Literacy)
  4. Identifying unacceptable situations (Safety Plans)
  5. Positive Self-Talk (Healthy and Dysfunctional Relationships)
  6. Emotional Abuse
  7. Anxiety and Locus of Control (Assessment)
  8. Keeping a Job (Financial Literacy)

See below for a brief video and summary of each module.

Available Data

Registered programs can access data for users. In New Decisions, this includes individual items and total scores for two scales measuring anxiety and locus of control.

Dating violence

Dating Violence Module

This module identifies signs of an abusive relationship and encourages bystanders to get involved. At the end of the scenario, the game play is an escape room where the player solves clues to exit the house.

Avoiding Drug Use

Avoiding drug use module

This module addresses appropriate responses when invited to situations where excessive alcohol or drug use may occur. Consequences of functional and dysfunctional decisions are also shown. Game play after the scenario has the player running to get to work on time, avoiding obstacles on the way.

Finding a Job

This module discusses selecting and applying for a job that pays sufficient to meet your monthly budget. The Crossroads: New Decisions game covers an introduction to creating a budget.

Safety plans

The first step in leaving an unsafe situation is admitting that it is not acceptable

This module addresses identifying situations that are acceptable, need improvement or unacceptable. Game play at the end has the player leaving the situation to find a new home, avoiding bad choices on the way.

Positive Self-Talk

Remembering that you are a good person who deserves being treated well is one step in a healthy relationship

Often, an obstacle to leaving an unhealthy relationship is that the abuser has convinced his or her partner of their own inherent lack of value. In this “text messaging” scenario, the player is reminded of their own helpfulness, honesty and generosity. Game play involves searching for lost items to help friends, family members and community.

Emotional Abuse

Abusers aren’t always physical

Abusers aren’t always physical and they aren’t always male. This module presents a controlling relationship that is, well, out of control. Game play requires solving a puzzle lock to retrieve a phone that the character’s girlfriend has stolen and locked in a drawer.

Anxiety and Locus of Control

Find where Jessie is hiding and answer her questions about anxiety and locus of control

Assessment is part of the job of any counselor and yet the best way to start off a relationship probably isn’t with pushing a pile of papers in front of a person.

Keeping a Job

Part of keeping a job is realizing that you need to do the dirty work, sometimes literally, and follow company procedures. In this module, players are presented with a couple of work place challenges, such as agreeing to clean out cages and put their phone away. The game ends with catching hamsters and walking dogs.

Now that you’ve read about Crossroads: OPTIONS, I’m sure you’re dying to know where to get it.

Get it from Google Play for Android Phones

Apple icon - get Crossroads: New Decisions from the app store

Get it from the app store for iPhones