Games can do a lot of things; they can entertain us, educate us, and even bring out our deepest emotions. But can they help us? Sure, games like Wii Fit can help us enhance and shape our bodies, but what about our minds?
Enter Nevermind, a game by Flying Mollusk that promises to not only frighten players with its psychological horror bent, but possibly serve as a tool to help players manage anxiety and stress. I had the chance to chat with Erin Reynolds, Creative Director at Flying Mollusk about Nevermind as both a game and a tool.
Introduce yourself to our readers!
Sure! I’m Erin Reynolds – I’m the Creative Director of Flying Mollusk
So tell us about Nevermind.
Nevermind is a biofeedback-enhanced adventure horror game that takes you into the dark and surreal world of the subconscious minds of psychological trauma patients. While you play the game, Nevermind will monitor how scared or stressed you become moment-to-moment. As you get more scared or stressed, the game will respond by becoming harder. However, if you’re able to calm yourself in the face of terror, the game will return to its easier, default state.
That’s a pretty unique angle, using a player’s anxiety and fear against them. How did you first come up with that concept?
Thank you! Nevermind actually started as my Master’s thesis project at the University of Southern California. Thesis year at USC’s Interactive Media & Games Program is essentially an opportunity to invest a year developing a project that represents something you’re deeply interested in. I’ve always been passionate about positive games (games that entertain and benefit the player) and I had become increasingly more interested in the possibilities of biofeedback-based gaming. So I wanted to use my thesis year as an opportunity to research its potential while integrating it into an engaging gameplay experience. Finally, I always wanted to create a horror game and was interested in finding a way to explore that genre through this project. While each of those goals probably sound like they could almost be mutually exclusive, after bouncing ideas off of mentors, faculty, friends, and family, the concept ultimately evolved into what Nevermind became.
In addition to being a game, you’ve mentioned that Nevermind has gone through some informal tests as an actual tool to help out sufferers of PTSD, anxiety, and the like. Please expand on this!
Absolutely! To me, it has always been important that Nevermind is both an engaging and entertaining game as well as an experience that can potentially help its players. However, I should clarify that the this current version of Nevermind is developed to help users become more mindful of their feelings of stress and anxiety levels and help them practice managing those feelings of fear and stress both in the game and, hopefully, in the real world.
However, with that said, we are working with therapists, medical professionals, and researchers to pursue a version of Nevermind that can potentially be used as a tool within a clinical setting to potentially help users with specific goals. Although we still have much development ahead before we can confidently get Nevermind to that point, we’re looking forward to hopefully having a version appropriate for that context in the not too distant future.
Awesome. Educational games have always been part of the landscape, and now games are striving to help in areas such as physical fitness. Why do you think that there hasn’t been an attempt to try and make a game that helps promote mental health?
There actually is a history of games that have been developed with mental health and wellness goals in mind. However, I feel we’re starting to see an increase in games with these ambitions for a number of reasons. One, building “non-traditional” games is much easier these days than it has been in the past due to a greater accessibility of game development tools. Two, there is increasingly more recognition of the potential games have to powerfully and positively impact players – as such, more of this kind of work is being both financially and academically supported. Three, I think that as gamers (like myself) are starting to get older and/or busier, there is a greater appeal for games that not only entertain but also “improve” ourselves at the same time.
It’s an incredibly exciting time – with festivals such as Games for Change, ESCoNS, NeuroGaming, and Games for Health celebrating games that promote mental health, and institutions such as the Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center at USC focusing on researching and developing games with these ambitions in mind – I think we’ll be seeing a lot more games of this nature in the future.
As an indie developer, what are some of the challenges you face in making a game?
There are lots of challenges in making games as an indie developer. Some of the common ones are funding, time, discoverability, etc. However, I’ve found the biggest challenge to be finding time to take a breath here and there. As an indie developer, you often find yourself working on games that you love (if you aren’t, then you’re doing it wrong). Nevermind, for example, is a passion project and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to focus on it full-time. However, when working on something that is very close to your heart, you feel compelled to work on it and think about it 24/7 – before you know it, you realize that you haven’t had a weekend in several months! In some ways, that’s fine, because do what you love and you won’t work a day in your life, as they say. However, it’s also important to take a step back every so often and make sure that you’re living a relatively balanced life – because, in the end, a refreshed and relaxed perspective will only benefit the game that much more. It’s something I and many other indies I know struggle with.
If you had unlimited resources–time, money, etcetera–and no restrictions, what would be your dream project?
That one’s easy. Nevermind! 🙂
Nevermind is out now on Steam Early Access.