This story from NPR’s All Tech Considered, describes the SnowWorld immersive virtual reality software being used to treat veterans suffering from burn wounds. While the nurse is dressing the vet’s wounds, he plays a game in a snowy virtual world full of penguins and woolly mammoths while and Garfunkel plays. The idea is essentially to distract the guy from the incredible pain of having burn wounds dressed in such a way that he can neither hear nor see what is going on.
I saw the creator of SnowWorld Hunter Hoffman presentation on this work at this year’s CyberTherapy conference. According to Hoffman, in the original version of the game you could knock over the penguins by hitting them with snowballs, but their funding agents thought this was too violent, so now the penguins stay upright. Right. Hoffman pointed out the irony of treating men who’ve suffered massive burns from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan with this kind of paternalism. Because, you know, it’s one thing to send men to a real war, but giving them the option of participating in cartoonish violence is just unacceptable.