What are we turning to, for hope in the pandemic?

DHI - A VR game experience based on biofeedback

Aditya Laad, Soukarni Barai
Classroom Project
M.Des 2019
New Media Design

student social︎︎︎

Through a study of emerging trends in technology, we attempted to create a Virtual Reality (VR)-oriented intervention for mental well-being. We explored the methods that people follow to resolve issues of stress, and discovered play as an approach. Our solution translated into a VR Game Experience that worked on Biofeedback. The proposed environment was a therapeutic safe haven for a user to explore where they are offered subtle tasks to keep them engaged. The experience relied on their Heart Rate Variability, monitored by a smartwatch. It hoped to make one conscious of their physical response to stress, give them the power to develop control over it, and reinforce mental resilience.

There was a lot of focus on solutions that catered to the pandemic and its repercussions, but there was a rising undercurrent of invisible health concerns. We asked: What are people turning to for hope? How are they coping with social isolation and maintaining their well-being? There was a surge in mental health app downloads, and we discovered a rise in gaming in India. We wanted to create something to break through the white noise of social isolation and serve as a mechanism to connect with our inner selves. It was noticed that there were few experiences that were extending into immersive technology and virtual worlds, which could be suitable for therapeutic experiences and can be customised based on an individual’s needs.

Designing for a large audience we were used to, but to develop an idea that we were personally motivated by added zeal to the project’s purpose. While we did speak to many people about their challenges, we would have strongly valued discussions with therapists or medical practitioners who are able to support the medical concepts. We believe if developed, this game has the potential to make mental healthcare more accessible.

We are often told that personal biases can come in the way of design. This project was a new approach where we did not just follow our instincts, but were also able to resonate with the needs of a large cohort. We discovered that design problems lay subdued due to their omnipresence. The pandemic opened our eyes and widened our horizons. As designers, it created a strong sense of accepting problems as opportunities of growth.