Crossing Borders: A Schizophrenic Simulation

The Project:

The topic that I am studying is ‘How Virtual Reality could increase awareness and empathy of the public towards mental illness issues?’. With this, my project is about creating a simulation based on Schizophrenia. The goal is to create an empathetic immersive simulation designed to be approachable for a broad range of users on understanding Schizophrenia. 

Why VR and Mental Illness?

Mental illness should not be seen as ‘normal’, but something people do not fear, judge or discriminate against. If one is not ill themselves, it is probably difficult to understand the internal experience of an illness. I chose to use VR simulation because the powerful effect of the technology touches human’s emotional side, which the 2D moment would not be able to provide it as efficiently. 


The Concept:

Public opinions changes depending on what they see on media and on screen (, 2018). Therefore, the goal of this project is to reach out to Schizophrenic sufferers by enlightening society about Schizophrenia, fix the mislabeling, language, stereotypes and to reduce the stigma associate towards it. Through the VR simulation, users will be able to go through a first-person perspective on what is going on in Schizophrenic patients’ mind and experience what they see and hear.

Research & Development

I did an online survey to study about the public’s understanding and concerns about VR technology, Schizophrenia and mental illness in general. It was participated by 68 respondents. Summarising the survey,  the respondents are showing positivity and confidence in using a virtual world. They have also shown interest in experiencing a Schizophrenic simulation.

Few subjective questions were asked in the survey as well. Most public’s respond were about their unfamiliarity on Schizophrenia. They mentioned that it would be useful to experience hallucinations the sufferers are going through by putting themselves in the sufferer’s shoes.

The Challenge

Mental illnesses are often viewed as something negative else wise dangerous. From the online survey, respondents mentioned that they perceive Schizophrenia sufferers as ‘danger’ and their hallucinations are mostly negative and horror. However, this is not the case. Through my secondary research based on Schizophrenia sufferer’s experience, though there are hallucinations that are known as ‘disturbing’, there are also some that are some what neutral. 

All Schizophrenia sufferers have different experience. My challenge was to design a platform showing the balance between these two to create a realistic perception of Schizophrenia. Hence, I had to ensure the visual and audio hallucinations created are approachable to a wide range of audience, but at the same time, not exaggerating the symptoms.

To better understand the kind of hallucinations, I compiled a few interesting insights shared by Schizophrenia sufferers.

/Voices and thoughts from patients with Schizophrenia.

Apart from that, I also went through some visual research. I came across a few drawings done by Schizophrenia sufferers. 

The art above is drawn by Fenner, a 18-year-old artist. She draws her hallucinations to help cope with Schizophrenia.

/Drawings from Schizophrenia sufferers showing their feelings.

Visuals play an important role in communicating the message behind an idea. The graphic style in my project have to cater to a broad range of audience, from young to elderly. Hence, I came up with three graphic styles that each have potential for my project: cartoon/ low poly, stylized and black and white stylized silhouette style.

 I did a user feedback session to see what users think about each of the graphic style and which they prefer. As a result, most users chose the stylized (middle) style as the style is user-friendly, approachable but still emphasizes on the seriousness of the topic.

/Branding and identity.

Throughout my prototype development working on the visual and audio hallucinations, I experimented on multiple platforms to test out which software suits my project and needs the most.

The collage above shows my development working on audio recording and editing using Adobe Audition and Ableton Live. As for visual hallucinations, I used Autodesk Maya to create simple 3D animations and Unity for the Virtual Reality scenes.

/Concept video.