For so long, the topic of mental health has been a taboo. When it comes to such a sensitive topic, many would rather tiptoe around or even disregard it altogether. Despite its prevalence, people with mental illnesses still face considerable stigma and discrimination1, forming a barrier for those who need to seek treatment. Efforts by mental health advocates and non-profit organizations have made headway in raising awareness of mental illness but combating the stigma remains no easy task. For the healthy, it can be difficult to empathize with the plight of those suffering from mental conditions. This lack of understanding could also bring about the wrong impression that psychiatric patients are violent and are nothing but trouble makers, a sentiment that is further perpetuated by the media.
This is why I was especially intrigued when I came across Jane’s story during my internship at Hiverlab. Jane’s Story is a 360 degree VR video produced by Hiverlabs and TOUCH Community Services which puts you in the shoes of Jane, a student suffering from Depression. Users are put through the anxieties that are faced by Jane and is constantly bombarded by her doubts and insecurities which are conveyed through her thoughts in audio. This creates an intended effect that overwhelms the user as you drag your way through the story. The environment, the audio and the 360 degree viewing angle truly brings about an immersive experience that offers a glimpse of those plagued by mental illnesses.
While the video may not be able to fully capture the experience of those with a mental health condition, users would at least be able to understand and empathize what the former goes through. The video presents a great tool for the purposes of raising mental health awareness as it can potentially bridge the empathy gap for those watching it. In fact, social workers at TOUCH Community Services were able to utilize the video to conduct guided sessions with students.
Despite its successes and utility, the experience in Jane’s Story could still be improved. Primarily, I feel as though the graphics could use more polish as certain models like the teacher as well the trees in the background are glaringly awkward. Obviously, these aren’t the main focus of the video but it has the potential to ruin the immersion for some.
Barring its minor hiccups, I do feel as though the project is a great entry for the utility of VR for portraying mental health conditions. Such efforts could go a long way in aiding the cause for removing the stigma faced by psychiatric patients. With news of more potential episodes, there is much to look forward to for Jane’s Story.
Link to video and how it was made here: https://www.xsens.com/cases/how-hiverlab-is-using-motion-capture-to-help-people-understand-anxiety?utm_campaign=Motion%20capture%20-%20character%20animation&utm_content=185793804&utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkedin&hss_channel=lcp-125725