T.Sitting in a chair in a dark basement, I’m doing my best not to panic—inhale for 4 seconds, hold my breath for 7 seconds, and slowly release for 8 seconds. When it appears at my feet and starts crawling towards me, I don’t need a dial to let me know my heart is pounding and I’m in imminent mortal danger.
Welcome to the future of anxiety therapy: a virtual reality (VR) game that teaches you nerve-calming breathing techniques, then pits you against a giant humanoid that wants to eat you, deploying it in a truly panic-inducing way. practice to situation.
Developed by University of Cambridge researchers with support from local video game company Ninja Theory, the game is being tested as a means of teaching people strategies to deal with everyday anxiety. For me, this includes submitting articles to the Guardian, trying to walk out the door with my two kids on very short notice, or when I’m already late.
“We see anxiety as something that most people experience, as opposed to a specific anxiety disorder, and we try to teach them emotion control skills that could help most people at some point in their lives. A doctoral student leading research.
“Therapists ask people to learn techniques such as breathing exercises in a completely static, non-involvement way and say, ‘Try this when you’re stressed. But there’s no way to get people to try it when they’re stressed out in that therapeutic situation, and VR can be very helpful in that regard, as it allows you to fully manipulate the environment in which people are. “
With a VR headset and a heart rate monitor attached to my finger, I rode a rowing boat on a calm lake at sunset. A soothing voice prompts you to inhale, hold and exhale at the right moments, and as you become more and more relaxed and slow your pulse, the boat slowly moves forward.
After about 5 minutes, you’re ready to start the next phase of training: the dungeon. Even though I know it’s just a game, the immersive nature of VR helps ease my disbelief, and I’m amazed to hear my heart beat thumping in my ears. A small dial in the corner of my vision indicates my heart is beating much faster than when I was on the boat, reminding me of what I’m here for. I begin to slow my breathing and the dial also creeps downwards – I hear my fellow prisoners screaming, and when I look to my left I see a corpse being dragged backwards out of sight.
Suddenly, a emaciated, gray-skinned monster appeared in front of me, blindfolded and with a terrifying smile on its lips. I was told it can’t see me, but it can use my heartbeat to sense my location. The only way to avoid death is to use relaxation techniques to slow your heart rate.
I try my best, but the monsters are too close and too scary. Then, when the monster pounces on me and the screen goes black, Daniel Watanabe intentionally set me on a harder level because many of the subjects he’s tested so far have been too good at avoiding death. .
Getting the right balance, not to mention validating the approach across a larger and more diverse group of individuals, could take some time. Already tried. For example, to enable people who suffer from social anxiety or agoraphobia to practice everyday scenarios such as being on the street or in a store under the guidance of a virtual girlfriend coach. .
Partnering with a gaming company can take that experience to a new level. Gamification of processes may also help motivate people to practice useful techniques such as breathing exercises rather than relying on internal motivation.
She would never want VR to be used as a substitute for therapy, but “it could be used by anyone on the cognitive-behavioral therapy waiting list to learn some basic techniques in the meantime.” It can be a resource,” she said.
As for me, I’m reluctant to go back to that dungeon, but it reminded me to slow down and try to breathe when I’m stressed. Even an imminent deadline is no match for the monster.