Blossom VR is a game that aims to creatively enhance meditation and relaxation experiences in virtual reality. Inspired by the effectiveness of biofeedback treatments, we developed a minimal viable product that utilizes the users’ movements in VR and optionally Apple Watch biosensor data to provide feedback about how well the user is performing a relaxation technique as well as the users’ improvement over time.
With Blossom VR, we aim to help users relax by incorporating standard relaxation techniques into game mechanics that promote mindfulness. Through an engrossing, hands-on and visual experience, Blossom VR aims to provide a fresh alternative to the self management and moderation of anxiety and stress. We worked on this project under Oculus Start and are aiming to launch it to the Oculus Store by May 2022.
Despite great potential in clinical biofeedback with VR, the extent to which VR can be used to help biofeedback has been largely unexplored, as current applications have only mapped patient data to simplistic visuals, such as the size of a firepit, or the flow of a waterfall. Few of these applications utilize exciting aspects of VR, including 6DoF object manipulation or dynamic spatial audio. Thus, there is great potential in further amplifying the effects of biofeedback using VR. Moreover, advancements in VR for biofeedback could demonstrate a strong use case for VR in the medical field. This could then help improve the widespread adoption of VR in people’s lives.
People reported the following problems with more traditional approaches to meditation and other relaxation techniques:
With Blossom VR, we aim to help users relax by incorporating standard relaxation techniques into game mechanics that promote mindfulness. Keeping these problems in mind, we converted meditation into an immersive and enjoyable experience by utilizing sounds, colors, lights, and positive psychology to enhance player agency.
Through an engrossing, hands-on and visual storytelling experience, Blossom VR aims to provide a fresh alternative to the self management and moderation of anxiety and stress in the form of a progressive game.
Biofeedback refers to feedback loops based on biosensors which makes our exercises more efficient as we are able to draw on the mind-body connection to personalize each exercise for the individual user. Our exercises offer an optional integration with the Apple Watch, meaning that the user’s heart rate changes will directly impact the exercise and environment that they are in.
We use biofeedback, which involves creating feedback loops based on biosensors, to let users interact with and alter their environment. Additionally, our competitors generally focus on one element of virtual reality relaxation (such as meditation or tai-chi) that are standalone (not story based). We offer users various activities to see what works best for them through an engaging storyline.
Keeping these problems in mind, we converted meditation into an immersive and enjoyable experience by utilizing sounds, colors, lights, and positive psychology to enhance player agency. Our creation also crafts a storyline that allows users to influence objects in their environment using their state of mind (which is tracked through biometric data from their wearables) such as growing a tree through breathing practices.
Disclaimer: While biofeedback has been used for treating mental disorders, it is done so in a professional setting by qualified doctors. We simply focus on creating an environment that promotes mental and physical relaxation
The global augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) market is valued at about 30.7 billion U.S. dollars in 2021, with projections rising to close to 300 billion U.S. dollars by 2024. It is also estimated that VR will become the fastest-growing content segment from 2020 to 2025.
We conducted a basic survey on stress management. Here are some notable responses to the question:
"What are some things that you would change about your lifestyle to reduce your stress?”
Public perception of virtual reality, accessibility barriers for VR hardware, and VR fatigue which can limit usage are continuing challenges. Hence, we hope to introduce an AR version of our game in the future to make it more accessible to users without headsets and provide novel avenues to relaxation for people who might feel motion sick with head mounted displays.
Our competitors include RelaxVR, House of Meditation, Liminal, and other small meditation applications. Healium is the main competitor that is also using biofeedback for their virtual reality experience. Facebook or Apple could enter the market with relaxation and meditation experiences, while Calm and Headspace could also incorporate augmented reality into their platforms.
Through my notes from Dr. Dacher Keltner’s class on Human Happiness at UC Berkeley and the Greater Good in Action website, I attempted to create immersive versions of certain exercises that could fit into our storyline.
There are several studies to back up the health claims that binaural beats appear to be a promising tool in the fight against anxiety, stress, and negative mental states. Research has found that listening daily to CDs or audio files with binaural beats has positive effects on various cognitive functions in addition to helping ease anxiety and improving memory.
We recently had a sound designer join our team, who has been exploring lo fi beats, relaxing classical music and binaural beats. As a musician myself, I worked with them to create a sound palette for the music and sound effects we will be using in Blossom VR. This included curating musical pieces that promote relaxation on Spotify and YouTube.
I spent a few hours conducting virtual “field research” by observing environments and people in VRChat. The worlds in VRChat are user generated, so finding highly used, repetitive elements also provided us with some clarity on what affordances are most desired.
Our target audience is college students and working professionals who experience high levels of stress and are looking for new ways to be more mindful
As a college student who is stressed out and overworked, Miko tried to find time to meditate but couldn’t make time to be consistent with it. He enjoys gaming and hanging out with friends in his free time.
He would like to be more consistent with meditating, but is looking for new ways of relaxing as opposed to traditional methods.
He is a tech savvy individual with a fast paced lifestyle, looking for a way to relax in an engaging, less effortful, and non traditional way.
He finds it hard to make time to meditate and gets distracted easily because it is not a fun activity for him
Trying to maintain a healthy and mindful lifestyle has been hard for Anita as she deals with anxiety. She is bored of traditional treatments like medication and exercise.
She enjoys watching movies or shows to relax as it is a less exertive way of unwinding.
She would like to reap the benefits of meditative techniques but often just falls asleep when attempting them.
She realizes that movies are a temporary distraction but can't stick to a mindfulness routine.
Through our competitive analyses, user interviews, surveys, and exploration of virtual social spaces on VRChat, a few common themes emerged.
Users value feeling immersed in an interactive story that can leave them feeling relaxed and mentally replenished. Attention to the sound and visual design is also imperative to the feelings that are invoked by the experience.
After countless meetings to discuss scripting, storyline progression, game mechanics, player agency, gamification, user engagement, environmental responsiveness, narrative, level design and other such aspects, we settled on the current structure for our experience. I have avoided going into how each decision was made in order to preserve the charm for when the game releases. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any of the content mentioned below in greater depth.
I worked with the engineering team to establish various user states and also led a brainstorming exercise with our team lead for content that we could include as part of the storyline.
As someone passionate about storytelling, I spent hours authoring detailed design documents that outline the backstory, script, direction, and layout of the VR world.
Before setting out on creating a style guide, I gathered ideas by creating a collection of images on Pinterest and Dribbble that most closely resembled the aesthetic we were aiming to recreate through our design decisions.
To shape this vision further, a brilliantly talented member of our team created artistic concept sketches to capture each minigame within Blossom VR.
As for all games and movies (even more so for animated titles), it is important to have the visual set up, 3D assets, color palettes, and everything in between convey the main emotion we are trying to instill in the users. For this, I established a basic framework for designing elements in order to ensure consistency.
Before using standard 3D modeling tools like Blender and Maya, I experimented with quick prototyping in VR using Microsoft Maquette and Quill. Building for VR, in VR is relatively quicker and allowed our team to test out ideas before switching back to standard software for creating the final assets. For the game terrain, I used Unity to build the map for the game world in accordance with our ideation sketches.
The reason we didn’t build our assets in these VR tools is because of the limited customization and lack of control over the polygon count that these tools offer, which would have impacted the overall quality of how the assets appear as well as the load time of the game itself
User testing is an extremely important aspect of creating a usable and useful product. Due to everything being remote because of the ongoing pandemic, our initial plan of in person testing has not yet come to fruition which has been a major hurdle. We aim to collect valuable insights that help us identify opportunities for improvement for our product.
If we had more time and resources, we would have definitely continued working on the gameplay, improving the narrative. More affordances like watering flowers with ASMR sounds, fishing in the lake, and viewing the sky change colors from an observation point and features such as rare collectible items to gamify relaxation could also be added.
I'm so thankful for having the opportunity to work with such a talented, determined group. Not only were they excellent developers, but also extremely supportive teammates and great friends. I learnt a lot about remote (and in VR) collaboration, clear communication, and working with people in more technical roles. Having a team that believes in your ability to quickly pick up new skills and supports you through the process is truly a game changer.
This project has been extremely rewarding in many ways. Not only did I acquire multiple new skills and experiences, but also developed a deep appreciation for designing for VR. This completely changed how I view immersion, narrative, and storytelling and made me fall in love with VR and game design. Blossom VR taught me that I am a dedicated learner and am self-disciplined in seeing through the challenging tasks I take on.