Bump Galaxy: The Minecraft Server For Self Healing
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’vementioned 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.
An Interview with Bradley Smith, Co-Creator of Ruya
We talked to Bradley Smith, of Miracle Tea Studios, about the inspiration behind Ruya, and the importance of the themes embedded within it.
So, what was it that set you on the path towards game development?
“I had a kind of unconventional bohemian hippie upbringing where creativity and a DIY punk mentality was encouraged. There was a lot of freedom. Some might argue too much. Both of my parents are self-employed and run businesses which I think is a reason why I’ve ended up doing that too. A family friend from Ipswich who carved his way into the games industry from the working class world was definitely an influence, he ended up with the first indie game on Steam.
The combination of seeing that growing up, while being immersed in skateboard and alternative subcultures, naturally gave a pull towards the independent game scene. There’s a lot of commonalities in the indie scene that resonated with the type of person I am and the way I was raised. I love the DIY attitude and the genuine need to express something poignant that some developers omit. Making games quickly became an outlet in my adolescence, especially at university. It’s always been very personal for me. It’s typically how I’ve worked through certain neurosis or insecurities. I guess it’s a form of self-therapy at this point as I’m often trying to understand or turn negative thoughts in my psyche into something positive – a philosophy I learnt from straight edge music. Tom and I formed Miracle Tea shortly after graduating in 2016, we’ve been making small intimate games ever since.”
Tell us about the main objectives of Ruya and how the game is structured.
“Ruya is a meditative puzzle game with emphasis on simple pattern recognition, it leads players down a somewhat solipsistic path.In Ruya, you’re solving puzzles in her own personal dreamscapes where your goal is to eventually wake up. It’s presented in such a way where Ruya is giving little pieces of herself away in order for her children to flourish by spawning flowers. Those flowers temporarily mask her antlers, which are figuratively and literally the depressive weight upon her shoulders. At the end of each level, these get washed away to reflect a temporary fix.
Ruya is ultimately about mothers that put everything into their children to deal with their own depressions, while being a game that mothers are likely to play. By gradually solving the solutions to puzzles in Ruya’s psyche you come to access her lost memories. Those memories are based on real observations from my own mother during times of grief. A lot of the nuances and meaning in the game most people wouldn’t ever fully register, but it’s the kind of thing we designed to be felt in a subtle way.”
What is the theme of the game, and the inspiration behind it?
I grew up very close to my two sisters and mother. When we were setting out to make Ruya, we had the intention to make a game for all the important women that have been in our life. The inspiration for Ruya will vary depending on who you ask in the team as each team member embedded different parts of themselves. Aside from this, one of our intentions was to design a game that aids sleep. In turn this was a theme that carried through into Ruya’s design. I’ve had an ongoing battle with insomnia that was particularly difficult throughout my early 20s and it was something I was keen to explore and understand more. There’s a handful of spiritual themes in the game too which is perhaps reflective of an existential time in our teams lives. We were consuming a lot of Alan Watts and Ram Dass during development and that naturally bled into the design.
What are the inspirations behind the visuals of the game?
I really like the artist Philippa Rice – she’s a big inspiration for sure. Just before Ruya was created, I lost my Nan, who was an influential and strong figure in our family dynamic growing up. She was also a very spiritual woman, which perhaps lends to some of the ambiguous themes in the game. I think the impact of her life was what led to a lot of the visuals and tone of the game. It was only until my partner at the time pointed out to me during development “do you think the visuals are about your Nan?” where it really registered that maybe something deeper was going on in my subconscious. It wasn’t something I was aware of, but the big wave of creative output at the time probably should’ve been a sign.
Alula is currently in the works, will these games link in terms of mental health?
Yes, for sure!In all of Miracle Tea’s games we try to embed a deeper societal issue to comment on. Alula explores the idea of loneliness and how an individual might learn to overcome that. Alula attempts to evoke feelings of what it means to be alone and how small or big that can make you feel depending on your point of view. One issue we’re exploring is the idea of people being more connected now than anytime in history, yet loneliness seems to be a rising epidemic. We are trying to make a game that illustrates to players the concept that people can do great things as individuals, but when moments are shared with others it can make for a more authentic human experience. In Alula you find yourself alone on an island receiving notes in bottles asking you to fulfil certain obligations. Slowly overtime you will come to know who’s sending the bottles and why. All of Miracle Tea’s games are set in the same universe meaning Alula comes from a similar place to Ruya.
As a game developer, what would be your main take home for players of your games?
If our games offer you some time to reflect, lower blood pressure, chill you out or make you think inwardly, then I’m happy. Beyond that, it sounds idealistic and pretentious, but if a game we made changed how someone viewed or interpreted the world for the better I’d be deeply content with what that means. That’s something that Miracle Tea is trying to carve out in video game history that I feel we’re yet to achieve. If that never happens, I’m okay with that, it’s fun trying!
Interview with Krish Shrikumar, creator of PLAYNE: The Meditation Game
We talked to PLAYNE: The Meditation Game creator, Krish Shrikumar, about the inspiration behind the game, the mental challenges in making it, and why a game provides the perfect platform for mastering meditation…
So what was it that set you on the path towards game development?
I think it started after I played Quake. I spent a lot of time fiddling with it and creating levels. I mapped my home in the Quake engine, and it freaked out my mom seeing our home in the game with floors made of lava. Then came Half-Life, and that came with even more native tools for mapping.
At the end of school, I heard about SourceForge and got the bright idea of making an open-world, narrative-driven, first-person game using an open-source game engine called Ogre3D. I got a team together in SourceForge, wrote a game design document with loads of awesome, complicated features, but thankfully it didn’t take too long to realise how impossible it was. Although the project didn’t work out, I did meet some incredibly talented folk, some who I still collaborate with today. After this, I stuck to just playing games.
I went onto film school, did a bunch of 3D ArchViz projects and ran a web business with my brother. I was trying a lot of different things and it was a stressful period in my life. There was a severe lack of self-care that left a mark. Five years ago, I reconnected with meditation. It had been a significant part of my life as a kid, with my dad being a meditation/yoga teacher.
As I reconnected with meditation, it somehow pointed me back towards games, and I had the idea for Playne. So, I installed Unreal Engine and started to learn game development to create Playne.
Tell us about the main objectives of Playne and how the game is structured.
Playne as a game helps players learn and build a habit of meditation & mindfulness so players can better understand and better relate with themselves.
Every day that the player returns to Playne and meditates, the game world grows and transforms. There are guided meditations, breathing exercises and other techniques that I’ve learnt and practised over the years that have helped me to understand myself better. I wanted to create a game that would teach these techniques, that could be taken away by the player and used in their daily lives.
Why did you think meditation would be an effective central theme to a game?
I spent a shameful amount of time playing Guild Wars, so I know games are great at building habits. I also spent a lot of time learning to fly a Learjet from Edinburgh to London using FSX. I realise the power that games have in helping us build habits and how they can help us learn without necessarily studying. Bringing this together, Playne is an attempt at creating a game that helps players learn and build a habit of meditation.
What was the inspiration behind the visuals in Playne?
Around the time I was reading Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, in which Robert Louis Stevenson talks in length about camping outdoors. His writing is very visual, and there was a warmth about how he described those night times, smoking a cigarette out in the wilderness. That contrast of the orange of the fire and the dark blue of the night was what inspired the night scene in Playne. I’m also from Scotland, so all those trips into the wilderness played a part in it as well.
There is a place called Trossachs up in Scotland that is meaningful to me. It was one of the first places where I experienced the enjoyment of nature. I also ended up shooting my first film, Home, up in the Trossachs and the experience was incredibly meaningful to me.
The fox was inspired by my dog Meg. She’s always around and she’s always keeping me amused, so I wanted something like that for the players as well.
I wasn’t always so appreciative of nature though. I’m a city boy, so nature was a bit too `wild`. I remember going on holidays up Scotland as a kid and I would take my PlayStation with me. I couldn’t bear the thought of being up in Orkney without video games. Later, I slowly started to open up to nature. My wife would always encourage me to go out into it more, and I’m thankful for it.
What mental challenges did you have to tackle whilst developing the game?
Working solo is great because you can go where you want to go, it’s freeing. But it can get a bit tedious at times when there aren’t people to share the celebrations and failures with. I’m finding that the more I work alone, the more I need to make sure that I have a healthy approach to my work.
Building a consistent habit of working alone for 6/8 hours a day takes a lot of work. Keeping the head level, moving on from failures, swimming out of the deep waters calmly and quickly. I get excited very easily as well, so it takes a bit of work to keep things going evenly. Most of the creative projects I’ve taken on in the past have ended up with me overworking and getting burnt out. I’m still learning how to have a healthier approach to my work and what helps are small habits that I try to be consistent with.
I consistently try to meditate, exercise, eat healthy, step into nature and spend time with people who bring joy to my life. I’ve also built strategies around failure as much as I can. It’s crazy how fast I forget good advice, so I’ve got these little cards with strategies to deal with difficulties (thanks Ryan Holiday for introducing me to index cards). Like remembering that life is happening right here and not there. It reminds me to take it slow and experience life as much as I can.
Having said all this, there are days when I go all out and eat a whole pack of doughnuts, without even sharing.
Did making the game have any positive effects on your own mental health?
It’s fulfilling to give someone an experience that you imagine. It’s like you are transferring a bit of yourself to someone else, and it makes you feel more connected.
There are of course times of stress, especially when sales are slow and you get a bit worried about how long you’ll be able to keep creating and pay the bills. I suppose it’s also a bit like building a sandcastle. It’s fun as long as I remember that I’m at the beach, playing, and not thinking that it’s more than what it is.
Do you plan on developing more mental health-related video games down the line?
That’s the plan! Creating Playne has been so fulfilling, and the community around Playne has been inspiring to be a part of.
Right now I’m developing Playne VR, and then I’m going onto a mobile game that I hope will make the mechanics of Playne more readily available.
What are your overall hopes around Playne when it comes to player experience?
The hope is to make meditation a bit more approachable and show players the wisdom that helps them to not get lost in suffering.
We end up lost in the dark because we don’t know enough about ourselves, both as individuals and as an animal/organism. My hope is that meditation imparts enough wisdom that in time, the players can shine intelligence and wisdom onto the ground and see their path for themselves.
Playne is designed to be transitory. It should help players learn something that they can take away with them for the rest of their lives. When I hear players on Discord who have stopped playing Playne but have continued meditation, that’s the hope.
Meditation takes discipline! Do you have any tips for those playing the game for the first time?
Playne makes building a habit of meditation easier. But don’t be too hard on yourself. Give yourself time to learn about discipline.
It’s important to find out what works for you. It’s important to know that if we can’t stick to a habit, it’s not because we are weak. It’s just that we don’t know enough about discipline and habits.
Habits are about getting good at deciding to do something. I think the ability to learn is what’s common between those of us who are not great at building habits and those who are. I think as we get less shameful about failing, the better we get at learning to be more disciplined.
A few quick tips:
Aim to meditate twice a day.
Set a time and aim to do it at that time every day. If you like taking small steps, then try just 10 minutes a day and build it up.
If you like jumping in the deep end, they try sitting for an hour and see what happens.
Try to slot a bit of time where you meditate out of session by giving 5 minutes in the middle of the day just to watch your breath.
PLAYNE: The Meditation Game is available now via Steam.
How Video Games, Mindfulness and Meditation Saved my Life – by Rachael Fiddis
I think I’ve been anxious all my life. When I was a child, I didn’t know there was a word for how I was feeling until I was much older. I realised that other people felt the way I did too and that there was a name for it.
Many things contributed to my anxiety. I remember the first memory of this strange and scary feeling when I was very young, maybe 3-4 years old, due to the countless hospital visits for operations I had to undertake for years. I remember the car journey there like it was yesterday. Feeling sick and wishing I could get out and run home, but I couldn’t – I was a child with very little control over my circumstances.
Video games have always been a huge factor in my life. Throughout my hospital stays, I was always found with my nose glued to the screen of my Gameboy or a Nintendo Game & Watch. I didn’t fully understand it then as I do now, but gaming took me away from the stressful and frightening situation of a hospital ward with its clinical furniture, strange smells and scary nurses with their big needles. Being able to slip into another word and leave the unpleasantries of the real world behind helped me cope. Not only mentally, but through physical pain too after my operations.
Growing up, I started to hide my anxiety well enough so that most people wouldn’t notice. I had plenty of friends and I was social, but soon I fell in with the wrong crowd where drinking and taking drugs was a regular occurrence. This marked the beginning of my struggle with mental health. I watched the mask I so tightly held onto start to slip away.
Being at school was a nightmare and my education began to suffer. Back in the 90s, mental health wasn’t talked about as much as it is now – certainly not in high school. When it was spoken about, it was done in whispers. How the lady down the street “wasn’t right in the head”, someone to be afraid of and to stay away from.
Through years of pushing my mental health to the side and running from my problems instead of facing them, I finally broke. From years of built up anxiety and depression that had never been dealt with, my mind eventually said “enough!” and I had a break-down. This was most certainly the scariest period I have ever faced. Panic attacks crept into every nook and cranny of my waking hours and sleep didn’t offer much respite. My days were filled with hopelessness, deep sorrow and fear – so much so, that taking my life felt like the only option.
This wasn’t the first time I had thought about suicide. I had attempted it twice before, obviously unsuccessfully. But through the long NHS waiting list for mental health help and my own personal choice of not wanting to take medication, I felt like there was little hope this time. Then, one morning, I received an email on a self-help group I signed up for ages ago. It discussed mindfulness and meditation and how this practice really helped those with anxiety and depression. I didn’t have anything to lose at this stage so I looked more into it.
Over the course of a week I practiced mindfulness every morning, followed by guided meditation. To my surprise, the dark, heavy clouds of my mind started to become slightly lighter. They were very much still there but the notion of suicide began to fade and I finally began to see things a little clearer. Through the course of a month, my panic attacks weren’t as frequent and my mood began to lift. I even used my gaming; not as a means to escape my problems and push them to the side like I had previously, but as an aid to help me recover. Games were now a part of my therapy.
I’ve come a long way in the past couple of years. This has been through my gaming and mindfulness therapy, but also through the means of self-help and learning more about how the mind operates as a whole. I have found that the more you learn about a scary and unknown aspect of your life, the less terrifying it becomes. This of course won’t work for everyone. People need to do what’s best for them as everyone is different, but for me this method literally saved my life. I still have bad days and I’ve learned that that’s OK. I know now that tomorrow or even the next day will be better. I know that nurturing good mental health, as much as possible, is the only goal I need to concern myself with.
Life is hard at times, but if I had to offer one piece of advice it would be to talk. Talk to friends, family, your doctor – whoever you feel will listen. Keeping those harmful feelings and destructive thoughts to yourself will only do more damage over time. You’ve nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, we are all just human with complex emotions. It’s OK not to be OK. Please reach out, you never need to suffer alone.
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