Sudbury man's battle against opioid addiction inspires video game

A Sudbury man is using his battle against opioid addiction as inspiration for a new video game to help others avoid that path.

Patrick Gervais says he hopes to have a demo of Surviving Opioids ready by November

Sudbury's Patrick Gervais is designing a video game called surviving opioids that is inspired by his own battle against opioid addiction. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

A Sudbury man is using his battle against opioid addiction as inspiration for a new video game to help others avoid that path.

Patrick Gervais, a graphic designer who works for the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, is creating a video game called Surviving Opioids, based on his own experience with addiction.

Gervais said he got addicted to oxycodone when he was in his early 20s.

"Oxy made my feelings numb," he said. "Feeling euphoria mostly just made me not feel crappy."

Gervais said he felt as though it had his addiction under control for a while, and was able to continue working. But when he lost his second child at birth, he said he started taking the drug every day.

Oxy made my feelings numb. Feeling euphoria mostly just made me not feel crappy.- Patrick Gervais

At that time, he said he was spending anywhere from $50 to $300 per day to feed his addiction.

He said his workplace started to notice his erratic behaviour and helped him with his recovery.

"Thankfully, they were very supportive about it and told me I had to go to rehab if I want to keep my job and show them that I'm making an effort to get clean," Gervais said. "So that was when I signed up for the methadone program."

After he got clean, Gervais took a course on video game design. One of the brainstorming exercises encouraged students to design game concepts around something they are passionate about.

It was then that he thought his own battle with addiction could make for an engaging, and educational, gaming experience.

Gervais said his first prototype was a digital board game where squares would be linked to different events, either good or bad, that could affect the player's sobriety.

Patrick Gervais is selling T-shirts he designed to help fund the development of his video game, Surviving Opioids. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Inspired by therapy

But his experience with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) from rehab had him return to the drawing board.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health defines CBT as a practical, short-term form of psychotherapy that helps people to develop skills and strategies for becoming and staying healthy.

"In CBT, clients learn to identify, question and change the thoughts, attitudes and beliefs related to the emotional and behavioural reactions that cause them difficulty," the centre says.

In his updated version of the game, Gervais said the game focuses on a character who has thoughts constantly popping off in their head.

The character runs into different obstacles that can affect their sobriety, and the player has to choose how they respond to those obstacles.

Gervais said he has three audiences in mind for the game. The first is people who are fighting their own addiction battles, and might find some coping strategies in the game.

The second group is family members, who might find a better understanding of what a loved one who is addicted to opioids is going through.

And the third group he has in mind is teenagers, so they can recognize the behaviours and decisions that lead to opioid addiction.

Gervais said his goal is to have a demo of the game ready by November. 

With files from Markus Schwabe