There are many different reasons that people decide to try out 3D Web Worlds such as SpotON3D. I am quite aware of their value from my personal experience... I was confined to home for several years taking care of my mother who had developed severe dementia, and found that the ability to travel, socialize, and create in an online world was an great psychological relief for me in my situation.
But can online worlds provide relief from physical trauma? I thought that I'd pass along a rather fascinating article that was brought to my attention by Riley Hope, founder of SpiritVenture Ministries here in SpotON3D.
The story is of First Lieutenant Sam Brown, a soldier in Afghanistan whose life was turned upside down after his vehicle ran over an IED (improvised explosive device). His face and exposed areas of his body were burned beyond recognition by the incendiary material, and although he survived and was rescued, he was unable to find sustained relief from the pain. Other than high doses of morphine, nothing seemed to help. It seemed that Lt. Brown would be forced to deal with the unbearable pain for a very long time.
That's when Hunter Hoffman, a cognitive psychologist who had used virtual reality as a way to treat certain phobias, decided to see what he could do to help burn patients such as Lt. Brown. He set about constructing an online world that would help distract them from their pain, by using images that are the total opposites of fire and heat. The result was Snow World, an immersive environment where the patient wears special 3D goggles and can then interact with a world of nothing but snow, snowmen, and similar cooling images.
With Lt. Brown, the results were quite significant. He reports that taking part in the therapy literally allowed him to forget about his pain. Overall, researchers who have used this are reporting reductions in pain from 30% to 50%. The key to this, according to the research, is the fact that the patients begin to feel that they are actually a part of the world, not just a spectator.
After much reconstructive surgery, physical therapy, and time to heal, Lt. Brown is now married with a family and leading a relatively happy life. It sounds as if Snow World was a big factor in helping him to deal with his pain and keep a positive outlook throughout the ordeal that he went through.
While this story may or may not be typical, what I take from it is that we should never underestimate the potential of 3D Web Worlds. They can provide a realistic experience for family members or friends separated by miles, for business meetings or learning... and quite possibly as a therapeutic tool.
If you want to read more about Lt. Brown's story and Hunter Hoffman's use of virtual reality, you can check out the following articles:
GQ Article on Lt. Brown
NPR article on Lt. Brown
Article about VR Pain Reduction
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