Virtual Reality

4. Strategies for Representation, Control and Play

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Meaningful Representations of Biometrics

It’s easy to provide someone with a representation of any one of myriad markers of their current physiological state. But for them to be motivated to use this information, it should be represented in a way that is credible, salient and compelling. Many attempts at this fail because either the nature of the signal, or the means of relaying it, are felt as abstract, impersonal and non-intuitive.

If a person’s attention and imagination are not captured, their engagement will be short-lived, just as it is for many apps and meditation programmes. Here, the game designer has a relevant set of powerful and finely-honed skills. In combination with a scientific approach and cutting-edge biofeedback technology, the prospects for overcoming the challenges of visualising bodily signals in a useful way are exciting.

We will begin by exploring a number of basic questions such as:

  • Is a precise, absolute representation of, say, heart-beat more important than one that tracks the rate of change? (as a simple example, we might use a stimulus movement to precisely mirror the beating of a player’s heart – beat for beat – or we might simply allow the overall change in speed or character of movement to change in a way that mirrors the heart rate but does not follow it absolutely).
  • Which types of visual feedback from functional to abstract give a better sense of connection?
  • What role does audio play as compared to visual representation?
  • Does seeing a character that represents you give you a better sense of body connection?
  • Will representing your fear as an enemy character help you defeat it?
  • How engaging and polished do these representations have to be in order to engage?

As we explore and test these prototypes, we will explore the answers and pose more questions such that we build a set of basic design rules and principles for biofeedback representation. 

From there, the path opens for more sophisticated gameplay design and worlds such that our body and mind affect the world and characters that inhabit it.  This is not unlike meditation techniques that start with breathing control and awareness, and then move to more abstract visualisations of water streams and beaches.  We can achieve much richer experiences in a more precise, reliable and engaging manner. 

 Representing and connecting with our biometrics is key to awareness and agency over them

Personalising Representations

Our previous work on Hellblade won plaudits for its ability to represent complex mental states and experiences. We aimed to portray psychosis for the purpose of understanding and communicating it. People have used our carefully-crafted representations to reveal to others what psychosis and mental distress are like for them. But this is just one facet of what we can do with the remarkable potential offered by games to communicate and understand mind states.

What if a person is given control of a simulation and is able to fine tune it so that it most accurately captures their inner world? This could be done using a personalised control context by tuning simple sliders, a common mechanic in popular games used for customising levels or characters.

This in turn could form the basis for individually-tailored game experiences that adapt to the player and their progress in overcoming or reducing their symptoms. 

Personalising mental states could lead to new ways to communicate distressing mental experiences and a powerful means of providing precise data.  This could be of use to mental health professionals in developing new ideas about the nature of mental symptoms and how they should be classified.

User-created simulations could offer a basis for phenotyping and treating mental states

Taking Control and Effecting Change with Gameplay

Optimising the recording and representation of bodily signals is the first step towards the goal of finding out how an individual can learn to change these signals. We envisage at least three ways in which change can be effected:

  • Acquiring control over bodily states such as respiration and heartbeat.
  • Re-labelling or reappraising those signals cognitively such that a given set of experiences can be seen as less intrusive and more controllable.
  • Predicting and preventing; by understanding the nature and origins of symptoms and by identifying the early signs of change, an individual may be able to develop and use a sophisticated early-warning system and use learned strategies to re-establish control and prevent more extreme and unpleasant experiences.

These possibilities and questions will be explored through a series of prototypes where we introduce game design principles such as reward, challenge, competition, score, gameplay loops, metagame progression and so on.  Vital skills can thus be developed and strengthened in engaging and enjoyable ways.

We will use standard game design principles to explore mastery over biometrics

Reframing the Psyche with Virtual Therapeutic Techniques

While biometrics deal with one part of the psyche, we should not ignore the importance of psychiatry and therapy in helping people reframe their anxieties and fears.  Techniques such as CBT and exposure therapy are proven to work and other techniques such as avatar therapy show great promise.  

A virtual simulation can replicate these techniques and dress them in an engaging, emotive and compelling way.  People who play Hellblade care for and believe in Senua and there is no reason to believe that we cannot repeat such personal engagement with virtual avatars and stories to help guide players out of their fears. The expertise of a dedicated therapist will be sought for consultation on how best to create effective simulations that capture the fundamental principles of their approach. 

One advantage we have is that our other commercial games projects currently in development at Ninja Theory will feature extremely sophisticated virtual characters that will be able to respond, interact and engage players in worlds that appear grounded and real.  These assets can be leveraged to provide a level of simulation and immersion for the Insight Project that is well beyond the capabilities of standard research efforts.

We will seek higher-level emotive engagement with virtual avatars, worlds and narratives to replicate the best of current therapeutic techniques

Continue Reading…

  1. The Insight Project
  2. Principles of The Insight Project
  3. A Practical Approach for Identifying Suffering
  4. Strategies for Representation, Control and Play
  5. A Practical Solution for Everyday Life
  6. Final Thoughts

Recent posts

1. The Insight Project

The Insight Project is an experimental and exploratory project expected to take shape over several years but is being announced early to encourage an open and transparent approach to its development.

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2. Principles of The Insight Project

There are competing theories over how emotions are represented in the brain, how they relate to signals from the body and even over the basic questions of whether there are truly distinct types of emotion.

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3. A Practical Approach for Identifying Suffering

The project must begin somewhere, and we suggest that the experience casting the largest shadow is fear. It is present in anxiety, phobias, PTSD and psychosis amongst others.

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