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Playne: Encouraging mindfulness through video games

Developer Krish Shrikumar on using video games to break down stigma against meditation and mindfulness

The games industry is known for its experimental inclination and, as a medium, is almost universally recognised as being uniquely placed to reinterpret and reinvent old ideas.

Edinburgh-based BAFTA New Talent nominee Krish Shrikumar is a filmmaker turned game designer who has embraced this ethos, as he tries to encourage mindfulness through video games.

Playne is his first serious attempt at developing a game, and he hopes that it can not only encourage people to practice mindfulness, but also tackle the stigma associated with meditation.

Krish Shrikumar

Right now mindfulness is enjoying a surge in popularity as the reported benefits are espoused by organisations around the globe, from tech giants like Google to the British government's Department for Transport.

For the unfamiliar, mindfulness is little more than awareness of your thoughts in the present moment, without passing judgement. The practice has its roots in Buddhist meditation and, since the 1970s, has been the subject extensive empirical study, with over 700 scientific papers published on the subject in 2014 alone.

Some evidence even suggests that mindfulness can help treat a wide variety of psychiatric conditions, ranging from schizophrenia spectrum disorders, through to sleep problems and chemical and non-chemical addictions.

In fact, both the National Health Service and American Psychiatric Association frequently prescribe mindfulness to people with anxiety and depression.

But it's more than just an alternative to antidepressants; countless studies suggest that mindfulness can improve focus, communication, and emotional intelligence, while also helping cope with stress.

Of course, there is scepticism and stigma towards mindfulness; it's hardly surprising given that the list of reported benefits is so wide and all-encompassing, it sounds more like snake oil than anything else.

In order to help overcome this, Shrikumar began developing Playne as a game you can play while meditating; the basic premise is that regularly practising mindfulness will drive the game story froward, and evolve the world. Using basic gamifying techniques, Shrikumar hopes to encourage more people to practice mindfulness which he himself has found so helpful.

"I could see how other people couldn't really relate as much to that whole world of incense sticks and transcendental meditation, sitting in a group and chanting, and all of these things"

"I've suffered from depression and anxiety before, and meditation has been the only consistent practice that has helped me," he tells GamesIndustry.biz. "Meditation is a very powerful tool that you can use to understand these things better, and to move past it."

Shrikumar says mental health care is like physical health care; eating poorly and failing to exercise is the same as letting stress pile on for years without trying to change the status quo.

"Stress has a way of getting to you in a way you don't realise," he says. " You take it on for years and years.... then you have that moment then years later when you look in the mirror and go, 'Shit, man, I have let myself go. Do something about this'."

Despite achieving certain levels of acceptability, the social stigma around meditation remains, largely as a result of its popularity in religious and new age groups; there is a prevailing school of thought that meditation is not for "normal people".

Being familiar with these cirles, Shrikumar understands where this stigma comes from, but hopes Playne can help people overcome this preconception. Originally from India, he moved to the UK when he was ten, and meditation has always been a part of his life.

Cover image for YouTube video

"I was practising yoga and meditation as a kid, like going to school and learning," he says. "When I came here I'd been in the circles where there [were], let's just say 'hippies' and they love their meditation.

"I think anyone who does meditation is great, but when you start having these camps of people who you can't really relate with, that stops you experiencing something that's really profound and powerful."

A curious irony exists, Shrikumar suggests, when it comes to physical and mental health. There is no stigma attached to exercise, but a culture of Instagram gurus has set an increasingly unattainable standard of fitness. In contrast, meditation is something literally anyone can practice, but people are reluctant despite how achievable the goals may be.

"The problem with the 'hippy' side is that [it's] is difficult for regular folk to relate to, and they add an abstraction to the meditation practice that just seems not approachable for regular folk like me," says Shrikumar.

"The thing is, when I was growing up I could in some degrees relate with them because they were around me, but at the same time when I was grown up and doing my own stuff, I could see how other people couldn't really relate as much to that whole world of incense sticks and transcendental meditation, and sitting around in a group and chanting, and all of these things."

While Shrikumar is reluctant to associate Playne with the self help industry (estimated to be wroth $11 billion in the US alone), the approach of reframing self help ideas and practices into the context of a video game could help the games industry tap the currently unexplored market.

"Would I market it as a self help thing? Probably not," he says. "Purely because it's got so many connotations. When someone says 'self help' they build up so many images around their head: they think of books, the Law of Attraction, the Secret, and all this weird stuff... but self help is a massively untapped market for video games because games can be used to help people."

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Ivy Taylor avatar

Ivy Taylor


Ivy joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2017 having previously worked as a regional journalist, and a political campaigns manager before that. They are also one of the UK's foremost Sonic the Hedgehog apologists.