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Could a virtual reality game relieve symptoms of anxiety?

Deep breathing exercises are known to reduce anxiety and stress so what happens when we combine them with virtual reality? Could a truly modern invention be the answer to these age-old conditions?

The team behind Deep, developer Owen Harris and artist Niki Smit, describe it as “a meditative and psychoactive [virtual reality] game that is controlled by breathing.” Basically it’s breathing exercises in the digital world — and those who’ve tried it think it’s awesome.

Video credit: Owen Harris/YouTube

Harris himself has used meditation and breathing techniques to cope with periods of anxiety and depression and wanted to develop these methods further by creating a “digital zen garden.” “I wanted to build something where at the end of a stressful day I could just go to, and it’d become my own little isolation tank,” he said.

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Earlier this month Harris showcased Deep at the London indie games expo EGX Rezzed. The game uses Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that uses custom tracking technology to provide 360 degree head tracking, meaning users can witness the virtual world just as they would real life. Each head movement is tracked in real time to create a completely natural, intuitive experience. A stereoscopic 3D view allows the eyes to perceive images as they do in the real world. A 100 degree field of view means the only viewing limitations are those naturally imposed by the eyes themselves.

Deep also uses headphones and a custom-built self-calibrating belt that mirrors the user’s breathing patterns with onscreen movements. When the user takes a deep breath, a reticule in the centre of the screen expands and contracts, letting the user move around within the vast, tranquil underwater seascape.

Harris regularly uses Deep as a therapeutic aid himself and is keen for others to benefit from it whether they are looking for a new mental health therapy, an alternative stress relief technique or a quick way to relax at the end of a busy day.

Deep will be released later this year.

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