You are not your thoughts.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the creator of a new VR experience called Marvellous Machine, Anders Hajdenberg.

Knowing I work with VR and Psychiatry, Anders thought it would be an interesting experience for me to try. He was right.

This isn’t a review of the experience. You’re not going to get a score. If you’re here for one I’d say you’re not the target audience for this experience.

In technical terms, the only thing I didn’t like about this experience was the last 30 seconds which entailed a fast paced ride, if you like a bit of a thrill and adrenalin, you’ll like it.

I would have preferred an ending much like the one in Transition. Calm and dissolving.

Marvellous Machine — Steam

So what was it about?

It’s about a marvellous machine, the most marvellous there is, your mind. The rest, is something you should discover on your own.

Last year I tried a therapy method for extreme worrying. Extreme worrying is a mind crippling condition that turns everything in to a life or death scenario.

One of the exercises in the CBT regimen for my treatment was to dissect my thoughts.

As I entered Marvellous Machine I could clearly see each of the steps form my CBT treatment laid out in a 15 minute long, beautifully crafted way that took me in to a state of calmness, and reflexion.

Even though I suffer from claustrophobia I never felt anxious inside the experience which takes place inside a steam punk-like machine with levels and tunnels.

As I was doing the treatment the goal was to achieve a state where I could do this: Tell my thoughts that I’m their master.

Marvellous Machine elegantly illustrates the mechanisms of the mind through cog wheels. Just like neural networks that shape our thoughts, are re-shaped by our thoughts and in a sense, are our thoughts, the cog wheels in this VR experience symbolise the same mechanisms.

Each cog wheel drives another one forward.

Each harmful thought or negative reflection drives forth another negative and harmful one.

But you can change it. You can stop the machinery, reflect, analyse and purge the thoughts that drain you of energy.

How does it fit in psychiatry?

Experiences like Marvellous Machine are going to be essential to psychiatry in a few years.

I can see it being used as a part of future therapies for anxiety (and other) disorders. Or in any scenario where one has gone from master of one’s thoughts to slave to ones mind.

Identifying negative thought patterns

As a first step, before therapy can start, one needs to identify and map out ones thoughts, and Marvellous Machine and experiences like it, are an excellent tool for therapists to help their patients reach a state in which they can do so.

Me and my colleague Dr Iris Sarajlic Vukovic, MD have beed mapping out experiences which can be used in this manner. We’ve tried everything from Stanford University-made VR experiences to obscure games on Steam.

Iris Sarajlic Vukovic, MD — trying out VR treatment from Stanford University
The common thread for the games we’ve seen potential in for our patients has been that they’re made with passion and thoughtfulness, often by indie-developers.

We’re currently listing and evaluating them in a more systematic matter, and this experience is going high up on our list.

I’m excited to see what else we can find that speaks to our marvellous mind.