The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galxstasy


GAME DESIGN   |  RESEARCH  |  VR  |  ART DIRECTION  |  WORLD BUILDING  |  DIRECTION                       



SCHOOL: NYU ITP
CLASS: PLAYFUL COMMUNICATION FOR SERIOUS RESEARCH
PROFESSOR: BRETT PETERSON
MY ROLE: RESEARCH, GAME DESIGN, WORLD BUILDING, UNITY, UI/UX, CUTSCENE DIRECTION
RESEARCHER: DR JOSEPH J PALAMAR
DATE: FEB - MAY, 2021
TEAM: JAHNVI SHAH (research, music, world building, 3D models, copy), JENNY WANG (research, 3D models, project manager), LUCAS WOZNIAK (game design, research, unity, cutscene direction, music, world building)





Galxstasy is a virtual music festival in VR/online with a step-by-step guide on the harm-reduction and the effects of MDMA.


Why:
Most drug-related harm comes from the way drugs are used, and not as much from the fact that they are used at all.

Why virtual - To ensure maximum reach
Why music festival - Music festivals, dance music concerts, other party scenes are where people are most likely to do MDMA
Why MDMA - Our researcher Dr Joseph J Palamar had studied MDMA and drug use in electronic club scene intensively
Why this output - We would dress information as experience to get the target age-group interested enough in the topic to absorb the information they get.  
              



Project Goal: To educate people on the effects MDMA has on your mind and body. Through a semi- immersive experience that helps the user actually test the effects of the drug, we hope to educate in a manner that is in sync with the realities of consumption and harm reduction.
The goal of our work is to simply steer the conversation towards harm-reduction and safety precautions. This does in no way demonstrate an endorsement for drug consumption.       





Primary Audience Young Adults (16-25 years)

Secondary Audience Adults (>25 years)




                 

Research:


NYU Researcher: Joseph Palamar
MPH, PhD - Associate Professor at Department of Population Health

Area of study - Public Health, Epidemiology, Drug Use
Statistics on use / risk / demographics, Substance-related disorders / comorbidity, Phenomenological effects of drugs, Electronic dance music scene trends, Harm reduction strategies

“I don’t want people arrested - I want people alive”
- Joseph J. Palamar 




Primary Research: 
We ran a survey to see the demographics of the users, how aware are they of the drug, their perception of it and their knowledge on harm reduction.

View the research questionaire here.

40% 18- 25 years old
50% 26-35 years old

20% think it’s not bad
15% think it’s unhealthy
65% other reasons without consensus on any one (addiction, spiked, illegal, overdose etc)

75% have tried MDMA/ simialr drugs
95% know someone who has

55% of the people got their information on MDMA through their peers

55% of the people would google how to help their friend during a bad trip
25% of them would call a friend/authority


View full response here.




Secondary Research:

Alongside the research conducted by researcher Joseph Palmer and the surveys we conducted - we looked at Drug Policing Association, American Addiction Centers, the DEA, Global Commission on Drugs, Drug Policy Organisation, The Drug Abuse Organisation, The Recovery Village, Banyan Treatment Center, Drug Abuse Government, NIDA Archives, amongst many others. Also personal narratives that include the experiences of users and festival-goers alike documented via articles by Vice & on Medium have been utilised to add a voice to statistics.

View full resource list here.


Exploring the good and the bad of MDMA. 




Game Design:


Our research showed us the psychological effects, the physical effects, the brain activities, and what variables (during or before the trip) has an impact on the trip. We mapped the drug’s effects to it’s onset time during the trip.


Since it would be an online experience with a young audience, we decided to keep the whole experience under 8 minutes - usually at about 6 people loose interest/ can’t stand VR anymore. 

1.5 mins - Onset 
4.5 mins - Peak 
2 mins - Wear off 

Our game play changed drastically from branching narratives to one user flow. Initially the idea was to show the users how the consequences of their actions, such as choosing whether or not to stay hydrated, play out so that they can be more prepared to make wise choices if they decide to try this or a similar drug in real life.



However, at the end we decided to not give users agency that would direct their unique trip experiences. We realised that this needed to be a PSA - we didn’t want anyone missing out on any information that could potentially save a life


Participants customize an initial psychological profile that informs them on if they should proceed with the trip. It’s a first-person character POV, through 5-8 stages or plot points of a semi-interactive narrative.

They experience the emotional ups and downs that often come with taking a drug like MDMA in an unpredictable environment and, along the way, are taught the science and best practices for harm reduction relevant to the drug.


That’s our guy, Remy, giving you the stash ^


Information/ experience design:


We narrowed the list of things we wanted to talk about and what the best way to convey that imformation would be.

1. Initial gameplay: 


Drug check      Antioxidants      Hydration      Mental/Physical State      Drug mix

This was compulsory for everyone to follow all the essential steps before starting the trip, as these are the things the users need to keep in mind before their trip IRL. 



We made it into user interactions, as opposed to just information to retain memorability. You can only move on and start the experience once you have done the right things. 



2. Heads-up display:


Brain Activity      Heart Activity      Thoughts      Overheating      Hydration      Trip timeline      

The whole trip would have their vitals’ chart to show the biological effects of the drug in correspondence to the trip timeline. 

These could be turned on or off as they’re additional information. The two important factors here - overheating and hydration are reiterated in the cutscenes for that reason.




3. Cutscenes:


Drug Mix      Euphoria      Empathy      Overheating      Dehydration      Bad motor skills      Panic 


Bad motor skills

How to deal with a bad trip


Threat induced panic

Cutscenes would always end with more information on what happened and resources to follow up. 








4. Visual effects:


Body sensations      Euphoria 



These were shown through visual effects such as bloom, blur, lens flare, jumpy vision etc


Experience ends with:


Our guy Remy at it again ^


The experience ends with a bibliography and full list of literature and useful links for the users.



Space design:


The curation of the space was as integral as that of the experience and the message. We kept the architecture and language of the space conductive to transformative/ physiological and psychological experiences.



Fluid circulation and installations, bright colours that would exaggerate the psychological experience and an overall similarity with conventional music festivals where one would partake in consumption.

Pods created for people to relax, socialise, hydrate and introspect. 

The scene would change colour during the good and the bad trip. 




The entrance serves as a portal to the space and introduces the user to the preliminary effects of the drug. 



Other details of the world



Music:


SIXTH OCEAN
We collaborated with a music producer that has curated the sounds for multiple festivals and events of a similar scale and typology. We user tested the experience with multiple people with different degrees of familiarity with festivals of such kind. We moulded our experiences to match the expectations of the users.
Instagram
Spotify
Soundcloud


THIS PROJECT IS NOT COMPLETE, JUST AN INITIAL DRAFT. BECAUSE OF THE SENSITIVE NATURE OF THE WORK, WE REALISE THERE’S A LOT THAT STILL NEEDS TO BE DONE IN ORDER FOR IT TO BE USER READY.                             


View full demo here.

You can view our final class presentation here.