We spoke to Bianca Carague, Social Designer & Researcher and creator of Bump Galaxy, a Minecraft Server built to support your mental health through the power of virtual spaces.
What was the inspiration behind Bump Galaxy, and why did you decide on Minecraft as the medium to deliver it in?
When I first started playing Minecraft, I was struck by the exploitative mechanisms behind most video games. I feel differently about it now, but at the time, it wasn’t intuitive for me to chop trees and turn cows into beef. When I first spawned in a forest in Minecraft, all ll I wanted to do was pet the fox before me. I was shocked to find that all I could do was kill it. I think that the way we’re taught to play has a lot to do with how we interact with one another in the physical world. I wondered if I could create my own alternate reality within Minecraft’s neoliberal worldmaking system that actually aligned with my values.
Bump Galaxy really just started out as an experiment. I use to practice Reiki (energy healing, for those that aren’t familiar) and tried doing sessions in a smaller Minecraft server called Portal’s Temple. I didn’t have a physical space to do it and lots of healers do it via distance anyway so I thought doing Reiki in a floating temple in the sky overlooking a lake and forest might be a more intimate way to do virtual care.
At some point before the COVID-19 pandemic, I connected with several different care practitioners (counselors, drama therapists, haptotherapists, etc.) who expressed the need to migrate their practices online. They were actively seeking ways to virtualize their practice but didn’t know how. I invited a few of them to visit the server and we grew it into what’s now Bump Galaxy that could accommodate more people and other forms of care. It was really more a matter of small, incremental insights rather than one big burst of inspiration.
I built Bump Galaxy on Minecraft simply because it’s the game that sparked my interest in game mechanics. In hindsight though, I’m glad that I built it there because it was really the quickest, cheapest and most accessible way to prototype and validate different game world therapies.
Would you tell us a little about the different areas within Bump Galaxy and their purposes?
Bump Galaxy has several shared landscapes designed for different types of care, from a meditation forest to an underwater temple designed for hypnotic visualizations. I call them Care Commons. New ones are created all the time, as I meet new people online who would like to collaborate and share their unique experiences in personal development, but I’ll mention a few:
The Meditation Forest is for breathing exercises and meditations that help with relaxation. Here, players can plant a tree, meditate until it grows and leave a message next to it for someone else to read. As people do this, the forest grows into a living, growing monument of the community’s collective wellbeing.
The Sand Dune Dreamscape is, as the name suggests, sand dunes where players can access guided meditations that help them reflect on their dreams and how they can use these insights to grow in their waking lives. It’s about helping people make sense of their dreams for themselves and build their intuitive muscles.
The Snowfield of (Self) Love is a place where players can reflect on and discuss love and relationships.
The Underwater Temple is about diving deep into oneself in order to heal. It’s also about visualizing joyful moments in times of despair.
In these Care Commons, players can engage independently, with friends or with mental health professionals for more formal therapy sessions. They can build on the landscape using resources they get from engaging in the world so that as the community grows, so does the landscape.
You’ve mentioned the use of live events within the server – tell us a bit more about how they work and what they consist of!
We’ve had events such as a live virtual sound bath and guided meditation in our Symbiotic Jungle called ‘Mycelium to Dry Your Tears’. In an event like this, we would have a DJ or sound artist on the decks, high above a river. Floating just on the water is a meditation floor where the participants gather for the guided meditation. The meditation is about reflecting on our relationships beyond ourselves — with our environment and each other — on ecological solidarity. The meditation is then followed by some journaling, building on the landscape and overall good times.
Do you think this sort of idea could be replicated across other games?
Definitely. The way I see it, there are so many tools and platforms that already exist. It’s just a matter of exploring new ways of using them.
We’re passionate about games that can do good, especially within the realms of mental health. How have you used real-life applications from mental health support services to embed within the game, and how important do you think that the elements of the game are in portraying to people who may not have had this type of experience before?
In Bump Galaxy, we have a floating island that we use specifically for Drama Therapy. There, we’ve had workshops wherein a drama therapist would guide participants through using roleplay and improv as a means for social support. It’s difficult to organize these kinds of activities when people can’t go out, but we can do it in a game, even with people from other parts of the world. This type of social support is not only fun and interactive but surprisingly enlightening. It’s especially great for participants that wouldn’t otherwise feel comfortable trying it in person.
As for other Care Commons, the inspiration for the mechanics come from activities that I or visitors of Bump Galaxy have found helpful in real life. We turn these physical experiences and techniques into rituals that can be done in the game. In a virtual world, players are cognitively predisposed to (make) believe, much like when watching a play. The beauty of game world therapy is that it’s more engaging than other forms of virtual care.
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