Guest Post: Visiting Scholar, Carlos Álvarez Barroso

Screen shot from Carlos’s program OCD simulation game.

This past June and July I visited the Virtual Embodiment lab as a visiting scholar. I worked on a project that aimed to raise awareness about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder through a Virtual Reality video game experience. The theory behind the video game is that we can simulate the experience of OCD by putting the player through negative interactions that mimic the symptoms of OCD. I researched the different components that make up a lucid experience and hope that by going through similar obstacles to people with OCD, the player could increase their empathy.

For this experiment, I chose to disregard the more abstract aspects of OCD, like intrusive thoughts, and focused on the ritualistic compulsions of the disorder. To make a realistic narrative, I used testimony from the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Association of Spain:

“In the mornings, it took me no one knew how long to leave the house to go to school. My brain told me “Ana, every morning before you leave the house, you have to make sure all your shoes are perfectly aligned in the wardrobe”. For almost a year, I spent at least an hour a day trying to get my shoes in the
wardrobe “right” so I could leave for school. Until it didn’t feel “right”, I couldn’t stop.”

I worked with two undergraduate research assistants, Kevin Kim and Ishan Juneja, to build the program in Unity 3D. During the experience, the player finds themself in the protagonist’s bedroom.

Ana’s bedroom.

After a brief introduction that includes the testimony of the main character, they must perfectly align their shoes. Meanwhile, a countdown timer indicates the time remaining before they have to go to school. However, the shoes will never appear perfectly aligned, leading to a “Game Over” screen and the end of the game.

The shoes, in disarray.

Thus, the aim is to develop a “ludonarrative of awareness.” In other words, this project intersects ways of transmitting emotions and information between individuals and groups of people using the game narrative.

As a next step I will present the current version of the game to the Grupo de Investigación en Investigación y Tratamiento de Obsesiones y Compulsiones (I’TOC) at University of Valencia for feedback and modify it accordingly.

About the Author

Carlos Álvarez Barroso is a second year PhD student at the University of Seville, Spain. He worked at the Virtual Embodiment Lab this summer as part of Cornell’s Office of Global Learning visiting scholar program. He is interested in the representation of mental illness in video game and its relationship with stigma.

He has participated in several projects on the analysis of the discourse of different social issues in audiovisual culture. In addition, he has a great interest in the guidelines for the design of video games from the semiotic systematization of its components. Currently, he combines his research work with an active participation in various Spanish media related to pop culture as a cultural disseminator.

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