Deep: a video game for calm, deep breathing

“New methods for treating anxiety, trauma and mental illness are emerging at the intersection of games and therapy.” – Laura Hudson

Deep (video game) @

Deep, a virtual reality game developed for the Oculus Rift, has set out to do just that. It’s based on the same sort of deep breathing exercises that many anxiety sufferers—and meditation/yoga enthusiasts—are already familiar with, coupled with immersive visuals and audio that make you feel like you’re suspended in a dreamy, underwater world. A belt secured around your body senses when you inhale and exhale, causing you to “rise” and “fall” rhythmically within the water as you explore a “zen garden” of coral and colored lights.

Developer Owen Harris had been using breathing exercises to manage his own anxiety for years, and “when VR arrived… I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I wanted to build something where at the end of a stressful day I could just go to, and it’d become my own little isolation tank,” Harris told Vice. “I was building this thing for myself; it never really occurred to me to be showing it to other people.”

[Source: Laura Hudson @ Boing Boing]

More likes this, please. The world could use more tranquility games, peace games, do-good-deeds games.

Top Free-to-Play Monetization Tricks

The Coercive Monetization Model: how to extract money from Free-to-play gamers:

A coercive monetization model depends on the ability to “trick” a person into making a purchase with incomplete information, or by hiding that information Candy Crush: Sweet!such that while it is technically available, the brain of the consumer does not access that information.
… putting even one intermediate currency between the consumer and real money, such as a “game gem” (premium currency), makes the consumer much less adept at assessing the value of the transaction.

… To maximize the efficacy of a coercive monetization model, you must use a premium currency, ideally with the ability to purchase said currency in-app. Making the consumer exit the game to make a purchase gives the target’s brain more time to figure out what you are up to, lowering your chances of a sale.

… A game of skill is one where your ability to make sound decisions primarily determines your success. A money game is one where your ability to spend money is the primary determinant of your success. Consumers far prefer skill games to money games, for obvious reasons. A key skill in deploying a coercive monetization model is to disguise your money game as a skill game.

[Ramin Shokrizade @ Gamasutra]

Go read the full article, it’s brimming with mark-fleecing insight.

Via Boing Boing.

See also:

Dennis Eichhorn: How Sweet It Is

William Gibson on videogames

William Gibson Battlezone“It seemed to me that what [players] wanted was to be inside the games, within the notional space of the machine.”

… I remember walking past a video arcade, which was a new sort of business at that time, and seeing kids playing those old-fashioned console-style plywood video games.

The games had a very primitive graphic representation of space and perspective.

Some of them didn’t even have perspective but were yearning toward perspective and dimensionality.

Even in this very primitive form, the kids who were playing them were so physically involved, it seemed to me that what they wanted was to be inside the games, within the notional space of the machine.

The real world had disappeared for them — it had completely lost its importance.

They were in that notional space, and the machine in front of them was the brave new world.

William Gibson interview @ Paris Review

Gibson is speaking of the early 1980’s — the era leading up Neuromancer.

Anxiety Therapy and Video Games

“A team of students and faculty from Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College is designing and building a groundbreaking computer game to help young people improve their everyday skills in self-control.”
Nexus 10 biofeedback unit

“The use of physiological controllers in a personalized game platform allows us to help our patients help themselves in a new way,” says Dr. Laurence Sugarman, director of the Center for Applied Psychophysiology and Self-Regulation in RIT’s College of Health Sciences and Technology.

RIT game design and development students Ivy Ngo, Kenneth Stewart and John McDonald will work under the supervision of Sugarman; Stephen Jacobs, associate professor of RIT’s School of Interactive Games and Media; and Robert Rice, assistant professor at St. John Fisher College’s Mental Health Counseling Program.

The game starts with assessments that help the players learn about and describe their anxieties and repetitive behavior by turning the players into game characters. Using physiological sensors that are built into the game hardware, players then learn how to monitor the physiological manifestations of anxiety and stress, or what is commonly called their fight or flight response. Finally, the players use those same sensors as controllers to move themselves through the game by monitoring and controlling their characters and the stress responses they represent.

“The game was inspired by clients and will involve client input and feedback throughout the development process,” says Rice.

Sugarman says games involving physiological health are newly emerging, yet none combines aspects of assessment, cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback in a creative and customizable setting. This game allows a unique extension of the therapist’s role that provides a fun, engaging platform for therapeutic change, while collecting data on psychophysiological change.

Mind Media B.V. has also generously loaned, at no cost, the NeXus-10 Biofeedback hardware and Biotrace software used in this project,” says Sugarman.
Aug. 18, 2011
Scott Bureau @

Persuasive Games

Over at Institute for the Future, Mathias Crawford recently published a thoughtful essay on how games persuade us to change our behavior:

Ends vs. Means and Persuasive Games

Institute for the Future LogoAs (Carnegie Mellon professor Jesse) Schell points out (in a videotaped speech making the rounds this week), persuasive technologies like the Ford Fusion dashboard, are already being designed with game-like feedback in mind. To him these technologies fall short, however, because they are being engineered by people who are not game designers. If game designers would start to design reward systems that aimed to improve behaviors, we’d have feedback mechanisms that are much more enjoyable, and as a corollary that are much more effective.

Though I agree with his conclusion – that there is a clear need for people with game design expertise to design things that can help people improve behaviors – by focusing on creating technologies that aim to achieving measurable ends, Schell misses a much more important use of persuasive technologies: namely, technology that aims to influence means.

Mathias Crawford @ Institute for the Future

Via Boing Boing.

Ford Fusion dashboard: “Efficiency Leaves — Indicates short term efficiency. The more leaves and vines that are displayed, the more efficiently you’re driving.”

Ford Fusion Dashboard

Behaviorist Game Design

Dan Lawrence recently posted a thoughtful essay about ethics, psychology, and game design:

Skinner Box (operant conditioning)

It seems to me that the very interactivity of games that makes them so compelling also makes considering their ethical dimension more vital. Every game is a system that you interact with; listening to and responding to your actions in a certain way. While the game is responding to you, you are responding back to it even if you don’t realise it. Every game is teaching your brain something, every game is a dialogue with its player.

It worries me that this power of games to teach and train their players is either not understood or being wilfully misused for commercial gain. It doesn’t strike me as ethical to train a player to want to do something that they wouldn’t want to do in the absence of an external reward.

MiceOne particular example that always sticks with me is how closely the reward system of item drops in most modern roguelike games closely mirrors psychological research on the most effective methods to encourage repeated human (and animal) behaviour. By which I mean they could train mice to hit buttons over and over again by rewarding them in a certain way for this behaviour, even though the mouse would never normally perform that action.

Behaviourist psychologists spent a long time analyzing which type of reinforcement strategy was most effective in conditioning animals to respond how they wanted … the ‘best’ schedule is variable reinforcement where a reward is given not every time an action is performed but at a random time conforming to an average.

Whether designers are doing this deliberately or subconciously I believe its damaging to the people who play these games and obscures what is otherwise often excellent craftsmanship and polish in their production. There can be excellent intrinsically rewarding game design built up around this core unethical mechanic but that conditioning mechanic is still there lurking at the centre.

Dan Lawrence @ Robotic Shed

See also Behaviorism @ Wikipedia.