The Black Box

Collaborative Work, 11/2019  

When a plane crashes, people use the black box to investigate how the accident occurred. Is there an equivalent 'black box' for those who perish from depression?

Team Members :

Genggeng Wu
(Research and Design)

Jiahao Fan
(Recording and Directing)

Ruilin Liu
(Physical Installation)

Yuju Wang
(Coding and Hardware)

Project Overview

Play to Learn About Depression

The Black Box is a real-life room escape game centered around the theme of depression, designed for two players. We utilize a condensed time frame of 45 minutes, integrating storytelling, cooperative play, and physical space to immerse participants in the experience of navigating through this metaphorical black box of depression.

In the game, players step into a futuristic psychology lab with the goal of uncovering a cure for depression. They do so by delving into the memories of a deceased patient using a memory-simulation device, akin to reviewing the black box of a crashed plane. Guided by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, players gradually fulfill these needs throughout the game, striving to reignite the patient’s will to live within this simulation.

Story of depression

Charactor and background

Main Charactor

Tiffany Hadson was a musician residing in New York City during the early 21st century. Despite achieving global recognition in her twenties, she endured numerous severe traumas from a young age. Tragically, she chose to end her own life at her apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Prior to her passing, Tiffany had signed up for brain donation, recognizing her struggle with depression, in hopes that her brain could contribute to mental illness research.

Story Settings

Place: Brain Development and Psychotherapy Laboratory
Receptr: Musician Tiffany Hadson’s brain(dead)
Date of Death: 2019.10.14  commit suicide with depression therapy history
Purpose: To experiment with a new method to cure depression in a dead person’s brain

Room Layout

Players, rooms and levels

Room1: Laboratory operation office in 2050

Room2: A virtual space contains Tiffany’s memory

Players' position in each level


Collaboration and production
Coding / hardware / installation

Research and Design

About Depression

Depression, a mental illness with a rich history, has affected individuals spanning from the renowned artist Van Gogh to the iconic singer Lady Gaga. In contemporary times, discussions surrounding depression have gained momentum with the rise of social media, facilitating increased communication among people. It has become evident that numerous individuals grapple with symptoms of depression. Personally, a family member has battled this illness for years, and comprehending their experience has posed challenges for us. I aspire that this project will not only aid my understanding but also assist others who interact with it in gaining insight into this mental health condition.


Second-Hand research

Chart 1

According to a Depression Patient Statistics Report from 2008 to 2018 in Mainland China, a notable trend is the decreasing age of depression patients and the rapid growth of the affected population over the span of a decade.

Chart 2

One in ten individuals has experienced depression at some point in their lifetime. The causes of this illness are multifaceted, involving complex interactions among social, psychological, genetic, and physiological factors. In China, less than half of individuals diagnosed with depression receive treatment.

Chart 3

Depressive symptoms are often overlooked in the common understanding of mental health. Many patients find themselves facing blame for their symptoms from their close relationships, as those around them may not recognize these symptoms as signs of a mental illness.


Interviews and questinnaire


These two interviewees had starkly different experiences with diagnosis. One sought medical attention immediately but was eventually diagnosed with a different condition, while the other endured a prolonged period of suffering before receiving a diagnosis and continues to struggle with depression today. Through these conversations, I realized that without a clear understanding of depression, it can be difficult for people to differentiate between genuine patients and those who are simply experiencing sadness due to current events.


This questionnaire aims to enhance understanding of depression by exploring how different channels and content can impact outcomes. It comprises four questions, and we collected over 110 responses in approximately one week.


Content and form

The Black Box for Depression

We wish that depression had its own black box. All we know are based on the external appearance of the box, yet we are unable to discern what lies within. Without understanding the true nature of this illness, we must exert greater effort in treating it. Only by comprehending the entirety of the box's phenomena can we effectively aid the patient.

Make It a Game

Based on the questionnaire results, it's evident that people participate in offline meetings the least, despite it being the most effective method among all options to learn about depression. In comparison to traditional, laborious offline meetings, the game offers distinct advantages. People do not experience any psychological burden when playing games, and their enthusiasm for gaming is further heightened. While some levels may be challenging, overcoming them can be just as rewarding.


Simulated player journey


Provide players with the opportunity for future depression treatment. Therapists could enter the spirit world of the deceased through their brain, examining whether this method can alleviate their mental illness. This process might eventually be applied to living patients in the future.


Based on medical research, depression could stem from pure pathological changes. Individuals with depression often exhibit deficiencies in five types of neurotransmitters. Therefore, we set LEVEL 1 as linking five neurons on the computer based on the neuron card we provide.

Player1 uses the teleport to enter the spirit world of the brain with the assistance of Player2 in LEVEL2. Subsequently, the two players are separated into two rooms. We divided the lifetime into 2 periods:
LEVEL3: Tiffany’s 0-6 childhood
LEVEL4:Tiffany’s 6+ relationships

But in LEVEL5, players would fail the game anyway to emphasize the severity of depression because finding an effective way to cure depression is not easy.


This unexpected outcome is truly disheartening for players. Despite successfully navigating through all those levels, the experiment still ends in failure. Their shock and confusion mirror the current situation we face – despite our best efforts, we may not always achieve the desired results.

Most individuals, upon recognizing depression in someone, typically offer support, extend a helping hand, and seek quick solutions to overcome it, treating the situation akin to comforting a person experiencing temporary sadness. However, this approach is fundamentally flawed when dealing with depression.

The lab

Neuron and PC


Tiffany's Memory Storyboard

Tiffany's memories begin with her initial trauma and culminate in her decision to end her life. Drawing from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, players are tasked with fulfilling these needs progressively throughout the game, aiming to restore the patient’s will to live within the simulated experience.

Props Setup

We created a diary for Tiffany, documenting all the physical and emotional pain she endured, offering a glimpse into the reality of living with depression.
The hurtful voices from the public became the final straw that crushed Tiffany, ultimately leading to her suicide.


For better Game experience

We carried out playtests during both the prototyping demo phase (Round A) and the actual gameplay phase (Round B).

Round A x 3

Round A represents a demo test conducted during our design process, aimed at refining our user flow based on player reactions to each level and trigger. One team member was assigned to follow the player with a camera to record their experience, enabling us to identify obstacles hindering player progress. We iteratively refined our design to address any flaws identified during this phase.

Round B x 5

Round B represents the formal testing phase, during which players completed the entire game independently. We conducted interviews with players to gather feedback on how well they understood the theme by reviewing the monitor recording and what insights they gained from playing the game.