At every hackathon our team attends, we make it our goal to use Virtual Reality for good. Ranging from education to major social issues, we use VR to address what we believe needs the most change. Virtual Reality is a technology that can express thoughts, emotions, and experiences, and can therefore convey themes like no other medium truly can. Therefore, when talking about a subject that one must truly experience to understand, depression quickly came to mind.
Depression is a powerful force that, most often, can only be understood from the inside. It's hard for others to differentiate between real depression and sadness. We wanted to create a VR experience that would allow those who haven't been through depression begin to understand how serious of an illness it really is.
A huge part of our project was actually researching depression. This was also the most impactful and eye-opening part of the entire hackathon. We all headed to online forums, social media sites, and chat rooms, trying to gather data through a prepared google form we wanted to spread to people who had experienced depression. The result was more than we could have ever asked for. By the time of our submission, nearly thirty individuals had anonymously shared their stories, backgrounds, and views with us. Each entry held a great deal of emotion, and without this research, we could have never understood what depressed people really feel. Each response was rewarding, but at the same time very somber as we read through personal accounts of depression.
What it does
Another Day places you, the user, inside a bedroom that is initially filled with light. The first task in the game is simply to close the blinds and stop the blinding sunlight from entering. In the game, this sunlight is symbolically radiant and shining throughout the whole room. This is only the first step in helping our users understand depression.
The experience, as is, mainly involves looking around your bedroom and investigating items. Although many of these objects are completely ordinary, it's the unique thoughts that accompany each interaction that marks the signs of depression. We sought to focus heavily on feelings of apathy and reflection, noting how you- the protagonist- slowly descended into a state of demotivation and lack of care for the world. These thoughts literally appear on the screen, and each discovery gives even further insight.
At the conclusion of the room experience, we take a more direct approach to the issue by quoting the anonymous survey responders and explaining the hardest parts of depression. We also, however, believe that any project focused on depression needs a glimmer of hope. After carefully reading each interview, we selected quotes that focused on recovery, hope, and advice to others with depression. We put those together into an ending moment for the Virtual Reality experience, that seeks to empower a user to reach out and show compassion toward those with depression. It's everyone's responsibility.
How we built it
We built Another Day using the Unity Game Engine and the Samsung Gear VR. All scripts were coded in C#, and the application was tested on a Samsung Galaxy S6. Some of our 3D Models in the experience were created using Maya. We further used Google Forms to send out our surveys.
Challenges we ran into
Depression is a deep, powerful, and complex feeling that is incredibly hard to grasp without direct experience with it. We had to approach this problem cautiously, because if we weren't careful, we could entirely misrepresent the real problem at hand. We had to help others understand depression, but if we didn't understand ourselves, we would become enemies of our own cause. As a result, and because we wanted to be thorough, we chose to spend a majority of our time spreading an online survey to depression forums and other forums of social media. We lost a lot of time, but it was worth it.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Depression: Our entire team learned much more than we ever thought we would. We discovered the ugly truths about depression, the scary realities, and then attempted to make that into an actual experience. It was a morose situation, and we achieved our work with a heavy heart. However, in the end, we grew as individuals and allied ourselves to a cause that was previously unknown. Regardless of the project quality, we learned a great deal about depression, and therefore achieved our ultimate goal in at least a small sense.
Gear VR: Though we often develop with Virtual Reality, this was our first time developing with the Gear VR, Samsung's mobile solution to Virtual Reality. In turn, it was our first time building for Android on Unity, and we found that there were quite a few tricks we encountered. However, in the end, we were able to overcome the new hardware and create a worthwhile experience.
What we learned
Honestly, what we learned from this project was far less about technical skill and far more about the severity of depression. The more we dedicated to our work, the more we became invested in the cause we're trying to support. We read first-hand accounts of depressed individuals, walked through their lives, tried to understand their minds. We had to put ourselves in that place, and then ask how we can show what we learned to others. We grew humbled by our research and our project, and gained a valuable lesson that few other subjects can provide.
What's next for Another Day
This is a project we want to grow. Depression cannot just be represented in a five minute demo, and certainly not in a project that was thrown together rapidly in 36 hours. It's a massive subject that requires care, and we want to continue to perfect it. We want it to be something that can accurately capture a depressed mind. Through more research, actual tests with our target audience, and refined themes, we believe that Another Day can become a sobering educational and relatable experience for everyone.
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