VR Gets Real

Immersion Beyond Play

Gaming is always fun, but creating an immersive experience has theraputic implications as well. Heilig saw his Sensorama as a tool instrumental in training individuals for work in dangerous conditions, and it stands to reason that the military would find some utility in the technology. To that end, extensive work has been done to apply virtual reality as a tool to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Telemental Health VR Project is part of that effort. The project is geared toward using virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) to treat the anxiety and phobias that soldiers returning from the battlefield may experience, by recreating traumatic events in a controlled setting. Soldiers living with PTSD have traditionally relied on therapy and medication, but interactive mediums like VRET and video-game-inspired simulations have proved increasingly promising.

As the Telemental Project's research attests, soldiers suffering from PTSD who undertake VRET treatment see greater instances of remission than soldiers who are treated by the traditional methods--and recreating events in a virtual setting is significantly less dangerous (and expensive) than returning to the scene of a particular trauma.

Are We There Yet?

For all of technology's advancements, it's hard to deny that the future hasn't quite panned out as we might have hoped. Where are our moon colonies, skies criss-crossed with flying vessels, or intelligent robot servants?

In stark contrast to those Jetson-era daydreams, virtual reality seems like such a sure thing. Head-mounted displays have existed for decades, and virtual worlds like Second Life and World of Warcraft have become commonplace. With the arrival of 3D televisions, consumers will likely become increasingly acclimated to strapping on goggles to dive into their media. And virtual worlds for the corporate set have been attempted before, albeit with limited success. And while virtual reality has stumbled, so-called augmented reality applications have shown the potential that virtual embellishments on meatspace can have on the way we navigate with our cell phones, or shop for our next geeky toy.

So we haven't quite arrived at the holodeck. But for all the missteps along the way (Virtual Boy, anyone?), it seems to be only a matter of time before the consumer demand for immersion, and technology that makes it all practical, finally coalesce.

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