Monday, February 24, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Teaching coping skills is difficult.

I remember in my last internship in grad school at a community mental health center, I was coaching coping skills to a client who I diagnosed with Panic disorder, an anxiety based disorder where the individual suffers from a series uncontrollable panic attacks. Medications such as Xanax are popular, though sometimes ineffective, prescribed solution thanks to their addictive elements.

In order for it to be successful, it had to be in vivo. Let’s talk about what makes you stressed; now let’s build some positive rationalizing affirmations, and we’ll close with some stress management techniques. It’s a delicate process that often requires the presence of a counselor, and is often difficult for one to build on their own.

Enter Nevermind, a biofeedback driven horror game Kickstarted by Erin Reynolds, formerly of Zynga, that sinks players into the nightmarish subconscious minds of trauma victims in which they must complete a set of puzzle based objectives. The anchor of this concept is how the experience can be driven by biofeedback. Nevermind is a realization of the hypothetical horror title that responds to the player biometrics. As your heart rate rises, the game instills sensory obfuscations such as static, environmental distortions, and jarring music.

What’s fascinating about Nevermind is how it gamifies the practice of developing coping skills. When the game reacts with sensory distortions, you’ll need to use whatever means to slow your heart rate in order to make progress smoother. Deep breathing, thought stopping, self-talk, all of these are common coping skills in which may be used while playing Nevermind.

While wearable technologies such as the Oculus Rift and heart rate monitors for the PC and Mac versions of the game will enhance the experience on those platforms, what’s most exciting is the consideration of Xbox One support. Reynolds has been in talks with Microsoft about how the Kinect Sensor, which is capable of detecting facial blood flow, can stand in place as biofeedback.

With only a week left in its Kickstarter campaign, Nevermind has a ways to go until it reaches it $250,000 goal since that as of this writing, only just under $60,000 has been pledged in the past 10 days.

But this idea of biofeedback based horror titles cannot and likely will not die if this campaign is unsuccessful, perhaps not even Nevermind itself. There is demand from the community for this type of integration in the horror genre as there have been talks about it being on both the PC and Xbox One platforms. In addition, such a concept is too important for mental health. Microsoft has been supportive of Kinect’s use in the medical field, and knowing that they’ve already considered Nevermind, it’s easy to imagine this technology expanding to the mental health field.

Software such as Nevermind can be utilized for recovery for those diagnosed with PTSD and other anxiety disorders with the proper clinical rational. If nothing else, it’ll make for really cool horror games.

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