Blowing Blues (2013)

Blowing Blues is an interdisciplinary research health game and digital health intervention exploring deep relaxation breathing, stress coping, and emotion management. One plays the game by doing relaxation breathing to exhale away both mental and physiological stress and the in-game world representations of those negative states of mind.

From 2012 to 2013, I designed and developed Blowing Blues as part of my Master of Fine Arts Thesis at the USC Interactive Media Division, advised by the USC Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center and the Institute for Creative Technologies MxR Lab. This project contributes to the areas of games for health, digital therapeutics (DTx), and research on the mind-body connection.

Inspired by SOCAL street art and graffiti artists and their visceral emotional expressivity, the prototype (called MindFlux) was about exploring the emotional aspect of breathing and a novel game mechanic using the computer microphone as a breath-sensing game controller. This initial prototype also explored human-computer interaction (HCI) issues such as the latency between breathing and visual output, signal noise, user fatigue, and encoding and responding to different rates and intensities of breathing.

Through iterative development, playtesting, and integrating health and mind-body connection research, I integrated personalization through procedural visuals representing the player's negative emotions.

The player practices deep relaxation breathing for stress relief, interactively and visually reinforced by seeing exhalations eliminate in-game world representations of one's stress and negative emotions and by encountering motivational reminders and suggestions. On-screen prompts help pace the breathing and avoid player fatigue. Additionally, as the intensity of exhalation controls how quickly the stress representations get eliminated, I increased the sensitivity of the microphone controller response to allow gentle exhalations to work as well. Breathing involves both inhalation and exhalation. However, to focus on the essential experience, I implemented only non-contact exhalation detection.

Blowing Blues supports stereoscopic rendering for VR head-mounted displays and is developed in Cinder (C++, OpenGL, and GLSL). Bespoke music was composed by USC Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television Program alumni Jackson Greenberg and Max Loh.

It won the top software demo award at ESCoNS (Entertainment Software and Cognitive Neurotherapeutics Society) in 2013. Other exhibitions include MeaningfulPlay, Games for Health, the Mobile Health in Rehabilitation conference, and more.


USC Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center
Interview with