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Rehabilitation is a very long, drawn-out process, and can be a huge burden on one's mental health. Recovery from substance misuse and strokes are especially difficult as they both have long-lasting physical and psychological effects.


12 Weeks

March–May 2020


I worked with a partner, Bella Bergam, on this project. I focused more on UX and coding, while they focused more on 3D modeling.


Investigate how VR can have a positive effect on those recovering from substance addiction or strokes.




My project partner Bella and I were initially planning to work on two separate VR experiences: one for substance use disorder recovery, and one for stroke recovery. However, we ultimately decided to create a combined experience. Below are the findings from our research into substance use disorder recovery, taken from academic literature, lectures, and live Q and A session with a young adult in recovery, who had been clean for 7 years.



  • Sleep

  • Healthy Eating

  • Meditiation

  • Gratitude



  • Violence

  • Yelling

  • Stigmatizing Addiction

  • Music with Personal Associations (atmospheric music is fine)

VR Experience Suggestions

  • Problem-solving, accomplishing a goal

  • Escapism

  • Human connection

  • Nostalgia

  • Nature

  • Choose your own destiny, autonomy

  • Socializing while sober

  • Self-reflection

Proto-Persona: Michael

I also created a persona and empathy map to help to synthesize these findings.

Stock photo of a young man in his twenties; represents the "Michael Miller" persona

MICHAEL MILLER is a young man in his twenties recovering from a substance use disorder and is under clinical care.


While he is managing to refrain from using hard substances, he continues to struggle with the negative internal dialog that led him to start using in the first place and is still coping in other unhealthy ways.



To gain insights into stroke recovery, we read some literature on stroke recovery and physical therapy, and attended a lecture and Q and A with a physical therapist. Below are some of the benefits of VR in stroke recovery that we ascertained.

Re-Stimulation of


through a combination of movement and visual feedback can reverse temporary paralysis



with their prescribed exercises through gamification or escapism and making them feel less like a chore



leads to increased motivation due to a sense of achievement

Proto-Persona: Laura

As with the substance use research, I created a persona and empathy map to help synthesize my findings.

Stock photo of middle-aged woman; represents the "Laura Wise" persona

LAURA WISE is a middle-aged woman recovering from a stroke with limited mobility in her left arm.


She currently visits her physical therapist twice a week for assistance with exercise. She used to be very athletic and particularly enjoyed climbing.




We began the ideation process by synthesizing our research and coming up with a hypothesis and sketches for the substance use disorder experience, which we built first and was initially intended to be a standalone experience. During the ideation process for the stroke recovery experience, we started exploring the idea of combining the two and create a multi-purpose experience with a series of minigame.



The main takeaways from the Q and A and readings that we focused on were nature, accomplishing a goal, escapism, and self-reflection.

Project Goals

By presenting the user with the power to grow a garden despite uncontrollable difficulties, the game hopes to help the user develop a healthy internal dialog.

Design Specifics

The user would be walking through a garden scene with brightly colored flowers and plants, which will periodically be affected by things in the environment, e.g. bad weather.

By forming a positive affirmation using an in-game menu and saying it out loud at the same time, the user can revive the plants.

Occasionally, weeds will also grow, which users will have to chop down using their controllers.

Substance Use Recovery Experience Sketch 1 - Flowers
Substance Use Recovery Experience Sketch 2 - Flowers in Field
Substance Use Recovery Experience Sketch 3 - Flowers on Path



The main takeaways from the Q and A and readings that we focused on were providing visual feedback and incorporating the exercises into an experience that keeps the user engaged, motivated, and in a positive headspace. 

Project Goals

To gradually restore, or at least improve, the functionality of a patient who has limited arm mobility due to stroke, surgery, or other injuries. 

Design Specifics

The user will gradually attempt to climb a mountain, on the other side of which is a waterfall.


They will be guided up the mountain using various commands, which will get them to make certain movements, which are in line with ‘Thrower’s Ten’ exercises but will also facilitate the simulation of climbing.

Over time, the user will ideally regain strength and functionality in the affected arm.


This will be situated in the same setting as the substance use disorder experience and will continue to have a relaxing garden aesthetic. 

Intended Design Outcome/Effect

The user should climb a mountain through completing exercises. Some form of visual guide will appear on the rock face to inform the user of how to complete the movement. By developing a visually interesting landscape the patient will be encouraged and informed as to how to climb along with being motivated to see from a better point of view. Audio and visual cues will increase motivation to continue.

The design will combine techniques of both rock climbing and traditional physical therapy to execute a realistic and effective way of coordinating the body while building mental and physical endurance, and experiencing an affirming and relaxing environment. The game would also ideally be enjoyable for others, for example, it could still be used by those recovering from substance use disorders to symbolize endurance and overcoming a struggle.

Stroke Recovery Storyboard




Below is a user flow diagram, demonstrating the final gameplay.

We ultimately ended up combining the two ideas into one experience, leaving room to extend it and add more 'minigames' in the future to address a broad range of clinical issues.

We felt that both minigames be used for either clinical issue, and so the combined experience has potential to be used for multiple conditions. For example, the weed pulling can be incorporated into physical therapy sessions, and the climbing can be used as a metaphor for overcoming a struggle, with the relaxing garden at the end acting as a space for self-reflection.

The Therapy Trail - User Flow.jpg



Below is a screen recording of the final build, which was created in Unity.

NB: There are some drops in video quality due to file size and connectivity issues; we are currently working on producing a higher-quality 360° walkthrough. However, the build (optimized for the HTC Vive and Windows) can be found and downloaded at this link.




For this project, I spearheaded the scripting, in addition to contributing to the scene building, visual design, and overall UX. As part of the process, I taught myself C# from scratch. Although I was familiar with JavaScript, which has a lot of structural similarities, this was still a fairly steep learning curve in terms of syntax, especially in regards to interfacing with Unity.



In terms of future goals, we are hoping to test out this application with the patients we consulted with throughout the process; we were unable to do this due to the pandemic. We also hope to incorporate an element of arm span tracking and recording, so that physical therapists can also use this application to follow their patients' progress.

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