In 2017 we interviewed games industry professional Job Stauffer about how he’d lost over 50 pounds thanks to VR by playing the rhythm game Soundboxing every day. It was an inspiring story, one that focused on the way virtual reality can provide a motivational boost to make regular exercise part of your routine. But for Stauffer there was more to it than just weight loss. He saw benefits to his mental well-being as well as his physical fitness.
“People looked at me and saw ‘Wow, weight loss!’ but I don’t want to be just known for that,” he explains. “It’s not about the way you look, it’s about the way you feel, and I felt great. I felt amazing. I started to feel less anxiety and less depression. I started to feel like I was more in control of myself, and videogames were doing that for me.”
That realization led Stauffer to form Orpheus Self-Care Entertainment. One of the games being developed under the Orpheus umbrella is Rave Runner, which like Soundboxing is designed to get players up and moving. You dodge semicircles and wave the controllers around in time with music while zooming down an endless road, exercise made fun. But Stauffer wants to lift the profile of games that could help people mentally and emotionally as well as physically. It goes back to his experiences in parts of the games industry that don’t care about people—even employees. He’d worked at Telltale and before that Rockstar, two environments which he describes as “incredibly fast-paced and incredibly high stress.”
During his tenure as head of communications at Telltale, Stauffer started experiencing headaches so bad he had to have an MRI scan before being allowed to fly to Gamescom to help promote Batman: The Telltale Series. “That was a huge low point for me,” he says. “I was massively overweight but also frankly massively depressed and anxious because I was working so much. I was told ‘you have to focus on yourself and take better care of yourself.’ Yes, that might mean exercise, but at the same time that means a lot of internal work and development and growth to learn how to undo the workaholism.”
And while the games industry was responsible for his problems, it was games that provided a solution. After Soundboxing helped him get fit, he kept an eye out for other VR projects that could be transformative in similar ways, and that’s how he met Robin Arnott, “this eccentric weirdo who was showing off a game with a microphone and what looked like a psychedelic meditation trip.” That game was SoundSelf, one of the first to be brought under the banner of Orpheus Self-Care.