It’s been mentioned in the past on this blog that I suffer from some pretty severe anxiety. It is the driving force behind everything I do in my life, from the people I can’t talk to, to the jobs I’m too afraid to fail at so I never take in the first place. Hell, it’s a major reason (though not the reason) for why I don’t raid. Being a prisoner to your own mind is a truly awful way to live life, and while I mostly want to one day be free of it, going to see someone has never been on the table. I’ve taken too many psychology classes and I know what they’ll try to do. But what if my anxiety could be helped without using the techniques I know so much about? What if a game could help me combat the demon in my head? That’s what this week’s Kickstarter game aims to do. Nevermind is a horror game that uses your biofeedback to manipulate the game experience.
If I had merely told you that this week’s game was an adventure horror, you probably wouldn’t have batted an eye. There are already dozens of said games on the market (which makes sense given how huge the horror industry is!) And while it’s true that I ordinarily wouldn’t comment on a horror game given how much I hate them (for Halloween I tried and failed to play Haunted Memories–/shudder!), I felt compelled to talk about this one because of the mindset behind it.
This isn’t just a horror game. Part of the goal with it is to help people suffering from PTSD, anxiety and other stress disorders in overcoming their fears. One of the main features (though it is optional) is that your own biofeedback will affect the world around you. By attaching a heart-rate monitor to the game, the difficulty will go up or down based on your level of stress. The more frightened and anxious you are, the more difficult the game becomes. Only by learning to relax in the face of fear can you hope to get through the game.
While to me this is the most important aspect of the game, if you wish to play without a monitor attached you can still do so. Obviously the game won’t react to your state, but it will still be an enjoyable experience for fans of the horror genre.
In Nevermind you play as a Neuroprober–a doctor who is able to enter the minds of people who have suffered severe psychological traumas of which traditional methods have not been able to cure. It is your job to travel their scarred minds to find what is at the core of their various ailments. Naturally, with all the hard work that went into protecting themselves from said traumas, the minds of these patients are particularly hostile toward you.
Fighting Fire with Fire
While we haven’t seen much in the way of just how frightening it will be (are we talking Amnesia-esque jump scares and no weapons, or merely creepy environments?) one thing that struck me as a bit odd was the almost aggressive way in which this game aims to help people with anxiety problems. I suppose it’s a bit like the “You’re afraid of spiders? Excellent, come sit in a box with them until your fear goes away” sort of thing. The only way to overcome fears is by confronting them.
Yet at the same time, I’m mildly skeptical as to how this can help a person with general anxiety like myself. While I may have some pretty irrational fears on a daily basis, one that never comes up is “What if I get trapped in the hostile mind of a trauma patient??” How will being calm in the face of jump-scares or zombies help me deal with my fear of failure or talking to people or playing Dungeons and Dragons? I almost feel this might be better suited for people joining the military, or for firefighters as they will have to deal with truly frightening situations. What makes my anxiety so damn frustrating is that, even though I know it’s entirely baseless, I can’t help being afraid. Being afraid in the face of “real” danger in the way of horror games or movies simply isn’t the same as being afraid to play online games with strangers for fear of messing up.
The devs have said that in time they would like to utilize the technology present in this game to tackle more specific anxiety problems. Perhaps you could be put in social situations that steadily grows worse and worse the more frightened you become. This still feels like a somewhat barbaric way of dealing with fear and anxiety, but as I’ve already pointed out the calmer, more traditional methods don’t always work either!
I’m very interested to see how this game will work once it is completed. And while I don’t think I’ll personally give it a go (seriously, horror games freak me out SO MUCH), I would still love to see it completed. If a video game can help someone overcome struggles in their personal life, more power to it. These are the sorts of games that need to be made. I am such a firm believer that video games and virtual reality have the ability to help people, from changing our perceptions on the world and its people, to rethinking how we approach our own day-to-day lives.
Additionally the biofeedback being implemented in this game will surely set the stage for future games of all kinds. Whether used as a means of fighting anxiety, or simply to up the terror factor for horror lovers, it is a welcome addition to the genre and I am most interested to see how it will be implemented in other games in years to come.
Nevermind has already received enormous support from such organizations as Games for Change, IndieCade, the University of Southern California, Steam and even Unity. Valve has even pre-approved Nevermind for release on Steam upon its completion. If you want to check it out they are currently on Kickstarter where they are looking for $250,000 by March 7. As always if you are able to, please consider donating, otherwise be sure to spread the word!