Flying Mollusk Team Talks Tech & Mental Health Innovation In Gaming

By | 1 year ago 

We interviewed Flying Mollusk creative director Erin Reynolds and creative producer Michael Annetta about their studio’s goals, direction, and the innovation behind their biofeedback game.

The indie scene can be a mixed bag of innovation and rehashing of old ideas. In the case of Flying Mollusk‘s Nevermind—a biofeedback game that uses sensors to ramp up the game’s fear factor based on your heart and breathing rate—innovation and impact are some of the key principles.

But this biofeedback game isn’t just a gimmick for Flying Mollusk; looking forward in terms of technology and game development are hugely important to this studio, as communicated by Erin Reynolds and Michael Annetta.

“We’re all about making games that are edgy and give back,” said Reynolds, creator of Nevermind. “We’re all fans of biofeedback and I could talk for hours about all of the potential I see with that technology and ideas for it.”

Erin Reynolds Biofeedback Game

Erin Reynolds created her biofeedback game Nevermind as her thesis project with the intent of making a game that used new technology to help its players.

Flying Mollusk Aims to Break Technological Boundaries

Before Nevermind was a pioneering biofeedback game, it was Reynolds’ thesis project for her MFA at the University of Southern California. At USC, Reynolds met up with Michael Annetta, future creative producer for Nevermind. Both were interested in the potential for interactive media, including games, as a storytelling platform.

Though the game has been rebuilt from the ground up with the exception of the name and logo, the heart of Nevermind is still there. At its core, it’s a game that’s meant to be fun and engaging while also giving back to the player, using new and exciting technology to help players learn real skills about managing anxiety symptoms with biofeedback technology. But Flying Mollusk doesn’t want to stop there.

“As we see technology expand and grow and become incorporated into people’s daily lives, we’re absolutely going to be looking at that to see how we can turn that into a game that people can enjoy and … help themselves with,” said Reynolds.

Michael Annetta Biofeedback Game

Michael Annetta, creative producer for Flying Mollusk, sees a lot of potential for new technology in the studio’s future games.

Annetta is particularly interested in the potential for virtual reality in storytelling. “I look at VR not necessarily as a gaming-only medium. I look at it as a completely unique medium that is separate from games, that is separate from theater, separate from film, but it is still interactive and therefore there’s a lot of potential,” he said. “I think we’re going to start seeing a lot of that with some new technology…and games that are going to break the traditional definition of what we’ve always thought of as a game.”

While incorporating technology is important to Flying Mollusk, they also want their games to stand on their own. Of incorporating biofeedback sensors and other technology into their games, Annetta said, “We’re kind of looking at [it] as, ‘This is not a game peripheral, it’s a device that hopefully you already have for other aspects of your life that will work with the game.’ It can be used in other aspects of your life outside of the game, and we want to encourage that.”

Blurring the Lines Between Education and Entertainment 

The notion of ‘giving back’ is hugely important to Flying Mollusk. While some developers find a dichotomy between education and entertainment, Reynolds and Annetta feel differently—there’s a lot of potential for games to teach, and not always in traditional ways.

“My philosophy is that if the game isn’t engaging, if it’s not entertaining, if people don’t want to play it, it’s not going to help anyone…because if nobody will play it they can’t benefit from it,” Reynolds said.

But it’s not just about providing information in the game. As Reynolds points out, “Games are amazing because they can give you … context. You’re invested. You want to learn it. I think there’s something really magical and really powerful about that.”

Providing that context and information can be tricky, especially in a game dealing with mental health. Thankfully, Flying Mollusk has taken pains to avoid falling victim to some of the typical trappings of using mental illness in gaming—doing lots of research and consulting psychologists to capture the feeling of being in the mind of a trauma victim.

Nevermind Biofeedback Game Screenshot

Nevermind, Flying Mollusk’s biofeedback game, is intended to help destigmatize mental illness and trauma by letting players experience how it connects with fear.

Mental health issues have been very villainized,” Reynolds said. “We want to humanize trauma and PTSD because I think one thing that surprised me in my early research was just how broad a topic and how prevalent trauma is and how many people are wrestling with dealing with trauma.”

“A lot of times in games [trauma] is heightened to where that becomes this horrible monstrous enemy,” Annetta added, “and that’s not necessarily what we want to show.”

Instead, their biofeedback game aims to destigmatize mental illness, encouraging empathy and helping those with mental illness manage their symptoms by being conscious of them. Though Reynolds and Annetta aren’t certain what Flying Mollusk’s next project will be, incorporating innovative technology and education in their subtle way are likely to play a factor.

Flying Mollusk Takes Their Community Seriously

Crowdfunding has played a major role in Flying Mollusk’s success. A successful Kickstarter campaign and early access have been instrumental in the game’s creation, letting the studio blend their ideas with what the audience—many of whom are not traditional “gamers”—wants to see. Encouraging the community to take part in sharing their thoughts helps Flying Mollusk make the best game they can, and they hope to pursue it in the future if it suits the game they’re working on.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Reynolds, “and really a privilege to have such a fantastic community to sort of be part of the process with us.”