Designing a "serious game" to support and guide mindfulness meditation through using a ball and temperature changes
Zack Wilson,Daniele Spaccapeli
Final project for Adaptive Serious Games class at Université Paris-Saclay
November 2019 - February 2020
September 2018 - July 2019
For the final project of our Adaptive Serious Games class at Université Paris-Saclay, two designers (Zack and Daniele) and I set out to design a 'serious game' to support and guide meditation.
This process began with a deep dive into the field of serious games, to explore how to balance the 'game' with the 'serious.' The key distinction we discovered between successful, inspiring games and the rest was that only the poor games used what would be called 'gamification.' The least interesting games just added gamified elements to some process (e.g. Duolingo), while in the most compelling games you went through the motions of learning and completing whatever the 'serious' task was, almost without noticing. The best example of this we found is a mobile game, developed in cooperation with the Dutch National Ballet, that teaches you to dance called Bouden.
So, we figured out the key to true gamification – the gameplay itself taught you something, did not just reward completing something with coins – and we just needed a something.
At this same time, Daniele and I happened to be experimenting with meditation. I was using a set of audio-guides created by the Dalai Lama, while he had just started using Headspace (a super popular app around this time in 2019-20). With Headspace, we were all of a sudden very aware of its half-baked gamification, rewarding tasks but not actually using gameplay to trick you into doing the task.
Through brainstorming and experimentation we arrived at a meditation ball game inspired by stress balls – but also because we really wanted it to feel like a game. The core idea was a ball you could hold, that would help to focus your attention with subtle changes. This would help to guide meditation in the same way focusing on breath helps to clear the mind by providing a simple focus for the mind. To subtly change the ball we explored using both weight and temperature. Ultimately weight was impractical, while temperature was relatively simple and cheap to prototype using Peltiers controlled by an Arduino.
Once we started playing with the Peltiers, we were fascinated by their ability to both heat and cool. From there we quickly realized we could heat and cool different parts of the ball, which then naturally guided the hands to explore the ball. This was a very unobtrusive way to guide the hands around the ball, focus mental attention on the ball, and ultimately meditate. Attaching a Peltier to either side of the ball, we used an Arduino to reverse the circuit so that the sides would alternate hot and cold somewhat randomly. This produced a surreal feeling of heat moving side to side through the ball.
This led to the final prototype which used a foam soccer ball, which we hollowed out to store the elctronics and wiring. We attached the Peltiers to opposite sides, then ran their wires into the center. The Ardunio and Peltiers could be powered by a USB powerbank, which was a cool feature because even in this rough prototype form the ball could be used without being plugged into a wall.