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A woman uses her mobile phone in Toronto in this file photo from March 4, 2020.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

After Brie Code walked away from a senior position at Ubisoft, one of the gaming industry’s top brands, she hatched an idea to build a different kind of video game – one that her friends, including her non-video-gaming female friends, would actually play.

In 2015, after seven years at Montreal-based Ubisoft, Ms. Code created her own company in Toronto, Tru Luv Media Inc., and launched an app called #SelfCare. She wanted an experience that removed all of the typical things she relied on to create engagement when working on popular Ubisoft titles like Assassin’s Creed, such as a rising level of difficulty as the game progresses.

The #SelfCare app invites users to lounge around in a cozy bedroom, where your avatar can spend the day relaxing in bed and exploring the objects within it. Whether it’s tarot cards or breathing exercises or petting a cat, #SelfCare is a personal, meditative place for a moment of respite from the addictive and often unnerving habit of scrolling through e-mails, news feeds and social media.

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“I felt like there was something else that the industry was missing. We could see by the statistics that half of people like mobile games and half don’t. And I knew from my work that there’s so much potential in interactivity ... and I wanted to explore that,” says Ms. Code.

When Tru Luv released #SelfCare in the summer of 2018, it immediately resonated with people. A free app, with no ads, pop ups or marketing, it reached half a million downloads in a less than three months. Currently, it sits at just over two million.

Although #SelfCare is free to use, the revenue model includes on minor stream based on in-app purchases for items such as duvet covers, rugs and paintings, which highlight work by artists interested in self-care. They are available as optional in-app purchases (not pop-ups or ads, which they explicitly avoid) and can be found in the different customization menus for the room and some of the app’s rituals. Proceeds are split with the artists. Originally self-funded by Ms. Code, Tru Luv is now backed by venture capital, although Ms. Code won’t reveal the investors or company revenues. The company has 14 employees and is based out of Toronto’s Media Arts Centre.

The app, which was created with Montreal-based artist and writer Eve Thomas, was originally one of several prototypes, but this one resonated with Ms. Code and became the company’s sole focus.

“Brie was trying to figure out how to fix games and I was trying to fix my relationship with my phone,” says Ms. Thomas, who is now brand director at Tru Luv. “I have this toxic relationship with a device I cannot stop reaching for. The irony was that the solution to both of those things was a mobile phone app.”

The project, which is modelled around Ms. Thomas’s own bedroom and the objects she likes to collect and connect with, aimed to create a kind and gentle space on the phone.

“We get so many different emotions from our phone and sometimes I compare it to a magic 8-ball, where every time you pick it up you don’t know if it’s going to be a text with terrible news, or an emergency alert, or a cute animal or a big loud ad, it’s just always a gamble. With #SelfCare, it’s a break from that.”

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Lawrence Ampofo, CEO of Digital Mindfulness, a digital ethics innovation company based in London, says apps like these are part of a bigger trend.

“I think apps like #SelfCare, Woebot, Replika and others, are the future of front-line health and well-being,” Dr. Ampofo says. “At the moment, they provide instant access to emotional support and mental health treatment that do much to counter the sense of loneliness people feel.”

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