Education in Virtual Worlds, Virtual World Platforms

Worth Reading: New Yorker on Virtual Iraq and Virtual Therapy

The ever-literate New Yorker magazine published a fascinating piece on Virtual Iraq, a program designed to attempt to treat war veterans psychological wounds. Virtual Iraq is currently being tested by the Department of Defense in six different locations, and the article goes to great length discussing the development of the program and its historical precedent, Virtual Vietnam.

Virtual Iraq is using something called ‘exposure therapy’ for victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Exposure Therapy forces patients to revisit a traumatic event repeatedly, and in the process, hopefully helping the patient deal with the painful memories.

But the New Yorker reports that exposure therapy is particularly well-served by a virtual environment, according to JoAnn Difede, the director of the Program for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Studies at Weill Cornell:

“Because the traumatic environment is produced in a computer graphics lab, and its elements are controlled by the therapist, virtual reality can nudge an imagination that is at once overactive and repressed. ‘Voilà, you’re there!’ Difede said. ‘You don’t have to do any work. You don’t have to engage in any mental effort. We’ll do it for you. We’ll bring you there and then, gradually, we’ll let you get involved in the experience in sensory detail.”

Virtual Iraq was not created by the military, but was contracted. The inventor is a Albert Rizzo, a clinical psychologist at the University of Southern California. According to the article, he had been “designing virtual-reality systems to diagnose attention deficits in children and memory problems in older adults, and was affiliated with the Institute for Creative Technologies, a U.S.C. offshoot that he likes to call ‘an unholy alliance between academia, Hollywood, and the military.’”

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