Upwards is a Virtual Reality application for anyone who's scared of heights and wants a way to overcome it. I made it because I realized that many people with this phobia can't enjoy the small things in life whether it's riding an escalator or looking down from a balcony. Basically the experience has two different environments: One is a mountain (more advanced) and the other one is a place where users can cross bridges and rock climb with different difficulties based on how extreme their phobia is. I added teleporting doors to go from one level to another so users don't get scared when climbing to the next level. If someone's phobia is really extreme they can have a friend or a family member by their side to make sure they're comfortable.
The main reason I became obsessed with Virtual and Augmented Reality was due to its applications in the medical field. I found it fascinating that you didn't need to be a doctor to actually save or heal someone. With the start of this project, I wanted to tackle mental illness but specifically depression and anxiety. After doing research and talking to target users I realized that there's already lots of applications tackling those issues and that I needed to focus not only on a smaller target group but also on a group that doesn't have as much resources or attention.
What came to mind was that phobias weren't focused on that much by technologists and VR developers. Phobias can drastically impacts someone's life and when the pandemic happened, patients couldn't access exposure therapy. So I worked on bringing exposure therapy to them. I wanted to focus on acrophobia, which is the fear of heights, since I know many people with acrophobia so it meant a lot to me to actually do the project and make sure it's useful to them.
I did a variety of different methods while researching and that spanned competitive analysis, user interviews, and Virtual Reality Testing. All of those gave me lots of insight into the path I should take and what to include.
One thing I realized from the research was creating different levels of difficulty. Each part needed to have a path from easy to harder. Also many users mentioned that something as simple as crossing a bridge scares them and makes them nervous which is why one part of the experience is crossing a bridge. When I was intitially building this I enabled the user to climb to the next bridge once they were done with one level but through research I realized that this feature alone would be challenging to the user so I decided to remove it and allow the users to just teleport from one bridge to another through a telporting door.
When designing this I found out that I needed to have different environments and levels. I planned on having three environments: mountain, bridges/rock climbing, and a city. However, due to hardware issues that set me back I ended up having only the mountain and the bridges/rock climbing environments. In one environment I had various levels to get the user used to heights and being able to slowly get over their fear. The other environment (mountain) is more advanced and it's mainly to be done after the first environment since it doesn't let the user get adjusted first.
My main goal of each environment and the levels in them was that I wanted to enable the users to truly get over their fear no matter how long it may take. The environment may seem "easy" for someone who doesn't have acrophobia but for the people that are actually struggling with this phobia, it can take a lot of time for them to fully finish it. It differs depending on how severe the phobia is for each person but some can finish it faster than others.
Prototyping this was super duper fun, it was definitely the most fun I had in college. I learned a lot from this project such as VR prototyping, maintaining the system, dealing with bugs, and so on.