Virtual reality has already been used to treat PTSD and phobias, so it seems natural that the next step would be taking on general anxiety, an affliction that is experienced by a staggering 18% of adults in the United States. A new virtual reality game called Deep, by developer Owen Harris, uses an innovative mechanism to connect body and mind in an immersive environment: your breath.
The game was meant as a “meditation tool” that would help people learn how to take deeper, longer breaths; a widely-known technique which minimizes anxiety by delivering more oxygen to the blood, thus slowing down one’s heart rate. In the game, you are suspended in a peaceful underwater garden, and breathing allows you to rise and fall, as you would in real water. To pull this off, Harris created a band that can be worn around the chest, responding to the player’s respiration.
Harris is hoping to release the controller technology he invented to other developers, to open the door to building more digital worlds that can be inhabited by simply breathing, allowing people with physical disabilities, who may not be able to hold a joystick or click a mouse, to connect in an intuitive and effortless way.
Another game developer, Christos Reid, was able to experience the game at the brink of a panic attack. Deep was incredibly effective at quelling his anxiety. “I was so emotional, because I had never had such an effective anxiety treatment before. Nothing has ever helped me the way Deep did,” he told Vice.