Soteria Brings “Anxiety Conquering” Game Design to VR

Last year, we took a peek at Soteria – Dreams as Currency, a promising-looking game about embracing and facing one’s anxieties. Its creators at Deep Games Laboratory are now taking their unique approach to virtual reality, where they hope to immerse players more thoroughly in the game.

Soteria is based on the work of Anxiety Research Center founder Prof. Reid Wilson, whose input informed the game’s design. According to Prof. Wilson’s research, the key to overcoming anxiety lies in letting go of the desire to be safe and certain at all times and to “invite anxiety along”, to “move towards the roar”. This premise is the basis of Soteria’s design. However, one cannot fast-forward to the solution. To create alignment between the player and a person with anxiety disorder and to make facing one’s fears more meaningful, the game first leads the player down a path of resistance and suggests that one can achieve one’s goals by taking enough protective measures. This path turns out to be a dead-end. Disappointment opens the mind to new learning, in this case the introduction of a new strategy: to seek out the danger, linger through the fear, even provoking it, in order to win the key to free one’s dreams from fear’s iron grip.

Soteria VR debuted at a Stanford Brainstorm incubator last month, where it won the Audience Choice award.

“We were inspired to create Soteria as an immersive and engaging supplement to traditional therapy and self-help books,” said Dr. Rusch in a statement. “Games let you embody physical and mental states and experiment within those states in a unique and impactful way. Soteria VR will add to the experience of the original game the affordances of virtual reality so that players can more deeply and fully inhabit the transition from anxious to confident states in the face of their fears.”

The team hopes to trial Soteria VR soon, and move it toward widespread therapeutic usage. The Stanford event offered them the chance to get the game in front of experts in VR, entrepreneurship and psychology.

“Virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) offer a lot of potential to transform the way that we, as physicians, diagnose and treat diseases like PTSD, autism, anxiety and opioid use,” said Dr. Nina Vasan, the Founder and Director of Stanford Brainstorm and Chief Resident in Psychiatry at Stanford. “Brainstorm wanted to capture this potential by identifying promising VR/AR applications and working with entrepreneurs to develop ventures that are effective from the medical, business, and technological perspectives.”

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