We beat a dragon in a South African virtual reality game - and learned how to cope with pain and addiction
- South African company Business Science Corporation has built a virtual reality tool for Kids Kicking Cancer, which helps children deal with the pain associated with cancer through meditation.
- We tried it for ourselves, and learned to breathe in the light, and breathe out the darkness.
- The short VR training module introduces the breathing technique, and imagery useful for self-guided meditation, remarkably effectively.
By next year South African company Business Science Corporation (BSC) believes its virtual reality (VR) business could make up around a fifth of its revenue – and turn a handsome profit – as it uses VR tools to train artisans and corporate staff more cheaply than other methods allow.
But it also hopes to help addicts with their recovery, help those with anxiety issues to cope better, and help children with cancer self-manager their own pain.
BSC has developed a virtual reality training tool for Kids Kicking Cancer, an American NGO that teaches children to deal with pain using the techniques of martial arts and meditation. The initial version is specifically aimed at helping opioid abusers to cope better with recovery, but also has applications for anxiety and pain.
We tried the Kids Kicking Cancer VR tool, and battled a dragon to learn how to use the "Breath Brake tool".
The journey starts in the Kids Kicking Cancer dojo, where you get to meet its founder – and some rather inspiring kids.
The brief introduction to Kids Kicking Cancer and its approach comes from Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg, the martial artist who in 1999 started the programme that now has chapters around the world, including in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Goldberg tells the story of meeting a child in distress in a hospital, and stepping in with a technique to help deal with the pain and anxiety of chemo therapy.
Because this is hyperreality, you get more than just the backstory – the child in question visits the dojo in a vignette of sorts. Similarly, a reference to the nature of anorexia is reinforced with a striking image capturing the difference between perception and reality.
Then comes the breathing technique the entire simulation is intended to teach: breathe in the light...
... and breathe out the darkness.
The core message of the exercise is a simple one: you are not your brain, you are your soul, and can separate yourself from pain and anxiety. But to achieve that requires visualising the benefits of intentional breathing, which can be hard to grasp initially. Having the entire environment suddenly bathed in light – and then watching your own pitch-black breath emerge – creates a nifty shortcut, one impossible in the real world.
After practising that technique for a bit, it is off to the inside of your own brain....
...to meet The Beast.
The Beast is your limbic system, but also your desire for drugs or the pain you are seeking to escape. An important part of the Breath Brake technique is visualising that pain or desire as external rather than intrinsic, in order to address it. Or, in this case, to straight-out battle it using your newly-learnt breathing method.
The children you met in the dojo are on hand to offer encouragement and support as you summon the light while breathing in...
... and breathe out the pain or need for drugs – while The Beast shrinks and starts developing holes.
The drug paraphernalia that forms a throne for The Beast is a subtle attempt to deal with external triggers for addicts, but BSC says both The Beast and the items it is associated with can be adjusted for maximum effect.
The Beast begs and pleads in ever more pitiable fashion as you battle it, declaring its love for you, and asserting that you need it. But its doom – and your victory – is happily inevitable in this pre-scripted reality.
Once the battle is won, you move into a less fraught transition space, where running water and green surroundings prepares you to reemerge from the emotional battle.
Initial testing has been promising, BSC says, with users reporting it easy to replicate the breathing technique after a single session. Many also say they are left with a simple way to visualise an internal demon, and so separate it from their own essence.
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