SHPEEL IS A PROTOTYPE TOOL THAT AIMS TO TACKLE THE CITY’S GROWING MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS. AN IMMERSIVE VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT WAS CREATED FOR THE BIENNALE, SHOWING HOW THE TOOL ALLOWS YOUNG PEOPLE IN DISTRESS TO COMMUNICATE THEIR FEELINGS TO PROFESSIONALS WITHOUT HAVING TO USE WORDS.
Dundee has the fourth highest rate of unemployment in the UK, and some of the highest levels of deprivation in Scotland, both of which have been linked to anxiety and depression among the young population. The city’s entry to London Design Biennale explored how gaming and virtual technology can be used as an emotional tool, helping reticent young people to start talking about their mental health. “One of the problems we came across from speaking with counsellors and practitioners from local youth collectives and health services was that young people in distress often don’t have the language to describe how they feel,” said designers Malath Abbas and Tom deMajo of Biome Collective. “We asked ‘what can video games do to help young people start the conversation about mental health?’”
Called Shpeel (a misspelling of the word “spiel” which can mean either “to speak” or “to play”), the installation was a 360-degree immersive environment – a virtual multi-person experience manifested in real space. Visitors entered a small gallery filled with sound and colourful moving imagery. In the centre of the space, a sculptural object housed a collection of interactive controls with which users created and activated an abstract object – an “emotional avatar”. They immediately transformed the space they were in – the colour, sound and objects that entered it – and saw what happened when they interacted with the avatars of others. “It allows them to describe the nuances of how they’re feeling without words and to share that emotion visually with others,” said Abbas and deMajo. “It’s a place for quiet conversation.”
- Administering Body: Tilde Arts in partnership with Creative Dundee
- Design Team: Biome Collective
- Curator: Tilde Arts
- Partners: The Corner, NHS Tayside, and Hot Chocolate Trust, Dundee
- Supporting Bodies: Creative Scotland, UNESCO City of Design Dundee, Abertay University, NEoN Digital Arts Festival, University of Dundee, Epson