The Virtual World helping The Real World?




(Image courtesy of Google)


Recently, I was searching through my MSN homepage trying to see if anything would spark my interest for a possible blog topic. There was one headline that really caught my eye, "Groundbreaking experiment in virtual reality uses video game to treat pain." This title really sparked my interest because in today's society, it always seems like we are hearing about articles that detail how video games and the virtual world are hurting our development, especially in children, rather than helping us. From that perception, I was really curious to see what the article, as reported by the "Rock Center" on NBC, had to say about the "fictional world."


This article focused primarily on a soldier, Lieutenant Sam Brown, who served time in combat over in Afghanistan with the elite U.S. Army Rangers 1st infantry division. After his platoon was ambushed by enemy forces, Brown lead his men to combat where, "his Humvee ran over an improvised explosive device and exploded into a fireball. His body was engulfed in flames and Brown suffered third degree burns over 30% of his body." The burns and pain was so bad that doctors placed Brown in a medically induced coma for the first couple weeks so he would be able to survive.


After numerous surgeries and dealing with daily wound care, Brown was ready to try anything else to try and rid some of the excruciating pain. Since Brown was worried about eventually become addicted to the painkilling narcotics that he had to take, his doctors suggested something completely out of the box, a video game.


SnowWorld, which is considered, "a groundbreaking experiment in virtual reality," allowed Brown to, "concentrate on throwing  snowballs at penguins and mastodons to the music of Paul Simon, instead of focusing on the painful wound care happening at the same time." In short, the video uses the simple trick of distraction where Brown can be engulfed in a snowy, virtual world, while doctors are taking care of him in the real world.


Brown was examined by, Dr. Christopher Maani, an anesthesiologist in the burn unit of Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Maani, when discussing the video game explains, "it's saying, 'Hey, look over there,' when you rip off your child's band aid."

Back in 2011, the military used SnowWorld to conduct a small study, which yielded dramatic results. This study explained that the video game actually worked better than morphine for soldiers in the worst pain.


Unfortunately, the article does not disclose the specific facts to the study that was conducted by the military, so it is hard to see how useful the game was without knowing the data. Personally, to really agree with the study or see it as useful, I would want to know the ages of the soldiers, how long they used the video games, the types of injuries that they had, etc, but I guess it is possible that that information cannot be made public.


Today, the military is hard at work trying to figure out even more ways to help reduce soldiers pain, especially with thousands of troops suffering severe burns and trauma from blasts similar to the one Brown encountered.


After reading this article, I was torn. I can see how a video game can be distracting for soldiers and give them something to think about, but in a way I only see it working so far. Obviously, I am not a soldier and I don't know the types of pain that they have had to encounter, so maybe it really is, "to each their own" and these video games are really pain relievers to them. My take is that video games are going to affect everyone in the different ways. Sam Brown might have had a lot of success with SnowWorld, while someone else in his troop might not have had any use for it at all.


I also think it depends a great deal on the actually video game. SnowWorld, which I described earlier and makes pretty clear from the title, occurs in a "winter wonderland" where snow and ice are everywhere. This isn't a coincidence that a winter world video game was given to a patient who suffered from terrible burns. Snow was probably calming to Brown who was taken away from a his world of combat in dead heat and massive explosives.


What do you think of the possible concept that video games could help with our pain? Do you think the video game has to be specific to the person and their situation? How about the possibility of chance and that these soldiers might use anything to get away from their previous world of combat?


This is AWESOME. I find the video games would make sense as a distraction. Its sort of like taking a negative out of something and turning it into a positive. I just didn't know it could be used to such an extent that it would mask traumatic pain.

I also agree with you that this is a treatment that may not work for everyone, but for those that do, it works much better than drugs, and perhaps it may even be more cost-effective because all you need is a TV and a console.

Overall, its a very clever idea to flip the side-effects of video games into a useful tool. It reminds me of those educational video-games (e.g. Cluefinders) and if they have a similar sort of effect but in regards with learning.

I've actually looked online, and found that different types of video games may actually improve certain cognitive functions.

Maybe the future of video games will hold a deeper purpose and seek to improve everyday life, just like all our other modern day inventions.

I've actually heard of this type of therapy before! It's supposed to be pretty effective with soldiers who suffer from PTSD. I think that this is a good idea. Video games get a huge amount of scrutiny for their addictiveness and health risks but I really think that they can also hold some good merit too (as shown in the case you highlighted). I think this is entirely plausible. In an article I read from Fox News (here's the article: discussed how video games have actually benefited people such as surgeons with their hand eye coordination, and has helped with perception, decision making, and creativity causing people who played video games to make their decisions 25% faster than non video gamers. I found this to be pretty interesting. Do you think that there are other unmentioned benefits from video games out there?

I think this can be a great idea, however if one soldier is smart enough to figure out what they are doing the treatment can backfire. If the person understand they are trying to be distracted it will become much harder for them to actually be distracted. The videogame must also be able to keep their attention long enough to complete the treatment. There is another use of videogames in rehab where doctors use Wii games or other games to allow for the patient to regain movement and fine tune their motor skills. This rehab can work off of a very similar idea that by the game distracting them they do not pay attention to the work they are doing. What would be interesting and more effective is if they could identify those patients that are likely to become addicted to painkillers and use the treatment on them, and allow the others to have the benefits of pain killers.

I think the most creative part of this study is the fact that the video game involved a "wintry-mix" for a soldier who had suffered horrible burns. This was interesting to me because the only thing I knew about soldiers and video games was that they were not a good combination. When the Call of Duty video games first started becoming famous, soldiers were warned not to play because it may trigger their PTSD. In this case above, a non-violent video game helped a soldier recover. My question regarding this is if soldiers constantly watched movies, would it have the same effect? For instance if this burn victim watched Christmas movies over and over, would the results be the same as the video game?

Leave a comment

Subscribe to receive notifications of follow up comments via email.
We are processing your request. If you don't see any confirmation within 30 seconds, please reload your page.

Search This Blog

Full Text  Tag

Recent Entries

Everyone has heard of them as being the best car out there, mainly cause of gas prices. Hybrids are sweeping…
People everywhere are breaking up, just in time for the holidays. And the more couples I see parting ways, the…
Pregnancy Tests
While browsing Andrew's blog and looking to see all of the posts that I missed (I'm pretty sure I haven't…

Old Contributions