Hi, Could you introduce yourself?

Hi I’m Catrìona from the rural Scottish Highlands.  I’m a full-time Lab Analyst, a part-time student with the Open University studying Natural Sciences, and a graduate from Abertay University with a BA (Hons) in Game Design and Production Management.

What are you working on?

I have been working on creating a video game designed to decrease anxiety and stress called “And Just Breathe”.

Tell us about 'and just breathe'?

And Just Breathe started off as an honours project for my Game Design and Production Management course.  I’ve suffered from anxiety myself for a long time, and when trying to decide what to do for my project I remembered looking for games specifically designed to help people with their anxiety in the past and I wasn’t able to find anything, so I decided to make my own not knowing whether this was even possible!

I did a lot of research into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques and on how to create a relaxing environment and found some interesting studies which I turned into the environment and gameplay for my game.  I decided that a Japanese style garden would create the best atmosphere, as this incorporated lots of different aspects of nature (water sources, plants, wildlife, rocks, etc) which helps in decreasing stress levels, while still being able to create a private-feeling space.  I tested it on “gamers” and “non-gamers” alike, and made adjustments based on the feedback I received – interestingly I found that the non-gamers found it strange that there was nobody in the garden with you, but some studies I found suggested that women feel safer in outside environments when these spaces are private, and I didn’t feel that the game suited the tone of having other people around – so instead I added in some birds and butterflies.  This seemed to add just enough social interaction that when I re-tested the game, I didn’t get any more feedback about it being strange that there was no one else in the garden with you.

By the end of the last testing phase I had gotten lots of positive feedback that it was successfully able to decrease anxiety and stress levels in participants.  It was then exhibited at the “Abertay Graduate Showcase” at the end of my degree with much interest from the public, and so I decided I wanted to release it commercially; however I had made it with educational licences and wanted it to be a higher quality art-wise before releasing it, so I started from scratch to create the current version of And Just Breathe.

Catrìona in the garden

How did you get into your current field?

I always loved video games growing up, so it didn’t come as a surprise when I decided to study making them at University.  As for working in a lab, I’ve always loved learning about Science, they were a bit short staffed at the time, and I was able to start off as a trainee, even with a very different University qualification.  The part-time course I’m currently studying will also help me to develop in my role there.

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What advice would you give to people getting into your field?

Start making things, and get fluent with using some of the different software options.  I usually tell people that the game engine “Unreal 4” is a good place to start as it’s free to use and you can do some fairly complex stuff without requiring any knowledge of coding, so it’s very accessible, and Unreal 5 is on its way which looks fantastic so far.

What are your goals?

I hope to be able to provide people with some relief from their anxiety and stress through playing my game, and for them to be able to walk away with knowledge of things they can do outside the game to help them decrease anxiety when they don’t have that access.

I’m also working my way towards becoming a Senior Analyst and finishing my new course.

Do you have a mentor?

I don’t have a mentor, but being around so many passionate and hard working people at University inspired me to practise and become better at what I was doing too.  Being in that environment makes it easier to get motivated and try out new things.

Do you mentor anyone?

No I feel a bit too young to be a mentor, but perhaps in the future.

What’s the best and worst advice you have received?

The best advice I’ve ever received was at a Spanish hotel dinner buffet.  A stranger walked up to me as I was eyeing up the puddings with my empty bowl, and he said “Do yourself a favour and put that bowl back… and get yourself a dinner plate, they’re much bigger and can hold more pudding”, so I did.  In other words, it’s important to reward yourself and just have fun sometimes!

The worst advice is to sit at a desk working hard on your projects all day, which might sound like good advice, however I am just out of the hospital after a short stay due to getting a pulmonary embolism – possibly due to sitting working for too long!!  This experience has finally drilled into me the importance of regular breaks and getting up from the computer to walk around every now and again.  I will now listen to my Fitbit when it tells me to get up every hour - before I would go “ahh, I’m busy Fitbit!”, but now I will say “ahh, thank you Fitbit!”

Who do you follow? What blogs do you read?

On twitter I follow other indie game creators, small and large to keep up with the industry and to be inspired by the variety of fun and unique ideas being generated from brilliant people.

What’s the best way to keep up to date with what you’re doing?

You can follow me at my itch.io page: https://catomayke.itch.io/
Or on my twitter account @Catomayke