Psychasthenia Studio

This project first opened at the CHAT festival in February 2010 as an experiment led by collaborators Joyce Rudinsky from UNC and myself. Our goal is to explore the use of a game engine, Unity, as a platform artistic production, and as an experiment in collaborative authorship. While both of us work on all aspects of the project, my primary role is in developing the narrative components of the project, and conducting research on historical approaches to the condition and what we call the possible “palliative measures” achievable.

Version 1 Blurb:
‘Psychasthenia’ is an immersive artwork and psychological diagnostic environment. Therapeutic clients plug into the system’s sensors and navigate an expressive exterior space that changes according to their actions and responses to multimodal stimuli. The system’s media elements and user experiences are inspired by historical and contemporary diagnostic literature of the psychasthenic psychological disorder, which is characterized by phobias, obsessions, compulsions, or excessive anxiety. The experience of voyaging through the system reveals the unique character of the client’s inherent pathology and its lived expression, culminating in a summary diagnosis to carry back into daily life and interactions.

Psychasthenia 2:
The second version of the project developed some our core ideas further, but shifted from the diagnostic to the “treatment” stage of the purported illness. We dove deeper into the literature of the field and structured the treatment plan on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The user’s experience culminates in Self-Actualization, guided by Dr. Carl Abraham throughout the experience. This project was shown in the Santa Fe Currents International New Media Festival in June 2013 and will be shown in London’s Waterman’s Gallery in November 2013.


Psychasthenia 2 is an interactive artwork that explores the culture of psychological diagnosis and treatment within the context of a highly mediated consumer culture that often produces the ills it purports to treat. The term psychasthenia itself is an antiquated diagnosis given to patients who exhibit fear, anxiety, compulsion, and other related – and ubiquitous – ills characteristic of contemporary life. In this game engine based piece we ask how might we conceptualize our inner lives as a game in which lived experience is understood as a series of “levels” to be achieved, playing on the recent media popularity of “gamification” as a life strategy. Each game level represents a different stage in the user’s psycho-social development, and presents a challenge based on Maslow’s original hierarchy of needs – as translated into a discrete, achievable in-game goal. Shopping for self-help books, religious icons, and pharmaceuticals, for example, invokes the ways in which our palliative measures can themselves create financially ruinous results. Other levels similarly challenge and confound the user. Throughout the “treatment” process, the user is guided by the sardonic Dr. Carl Abraham. Dr. Carl offers access to his records room filed with historical research on the psychasthenic condition, administers psychological tests confirming the (inevitable) diagnoses , and most importantly, admonishes the patient who might dare to think they are making significant personal progress in what is ultimately a closed and self-perpetuating therapeutic system.