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MDM Students Use Virtual Reality Technology to Raise Awareness on Schizophrenia

Jan 28, 2015 By Anonymous

The famous movie A Beautiful Mind poignantly captures the struggles of the schizophrenic mathematician John Nash. Like many who suffer from this condition, Nash struggled to distinguish between hallucinations and reality. This aspect of schizophrenia is perhaps what makes it an especially difficult condition – people who care for schizophrenic patients have great difficulty comprehending the damaging effects of hallucinations.

A team of MDM students decided to tackle this real-world problem – how to do you make people understand what a schizophrenic patient goes through? While exploring various digital solutions, Team Prism hit upon the idea of using virtual reality technology (specifically Oculus Rift) to address this problem. 


Team Prism built an interactive digital experience tool in which people could navigate through a schizophrenic patient’s world - in their shoes. They would hear the hallucinatory voices and experience the impact of reduced social connections. For the project, the team developed a narrative of a teenager called Jackie, whose life turns upside down after a basketball injury makes her schizophrenic. Jackie loses touch with her friends and family, and they in turn struggle to cope with the sudden changes in her personality. The interactive experience allows people to see the world as Jackie sees it – populated with paranoid delusions and suspicious objects. It was a simulation that would be valuable to medical students and professionals who would be closely working with and treating schizophrenic patients.


Student Testing Prism

Agile methodology practices that students had learned in the first semester were used for project management. Regular scrum meetings and retrospectives helped them to complete the project within six weeks, and submit it as part of the Projects 1 course. User-testing with relevant personae and at multiple iterations helped keep the project relevant for the intended audience. Learnings from the Visual Story course helped build an engaging narrative for the experience. Each team member identified their learning goals at the beginning of the project and reviewed them periodically. Even though none of them had experience in programming in Unity, they learnt the skills with the help of others in the cohort.

Guidance from the members of the British Columbia Schizophrenic Society and the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of British Columbia aided the project greatly by helping build a realistic experience.

The project has been well received and mental health professionals who tested it have deemed it a valuable teaching tool. Team Prism is currently working on developing the project further, and extending it to other rare diseases.

Archana Ananthanarayan is a current of Master of Digital Media student, experienced project manager and holds an MBA in marketing.