A couple of years ago I met a Lieutenant at a demonstration of military simulations near Pentagon City, and watched with interest as he grew more excited with their verisimilitude. “Damn, I wish I could have used this for training my platoon before we deployed” he said, with obvious frustration. “We’d have been a lot more effective and taken fewer casualties if we had.”
Sadly the U.S. military is still in Iraq and many soldiers are coming home with PTSD from their experience there. Ironically, a video game very similar to what I saw in Washington has been developed to help these vets recover. According to Not a Game in the Science Section of the New York Times today,
The sun shines on an empty Iraqi street. A Blackhawk helicopter circles overhead. The aromas of spices from a market fill the air. Suddenly, insurgents hiding on a roof launch a rocket-propelled grenade. The ground shakes violently and plumes of black smoke cloud your vision.
Those images, produced when a person puts on a headset, are at the heart of Virtual Iraq, a simulation created to treat Iraq war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
By repeatedly encountering sights, sounds, smells and rumblings that evoke painful memories, experts say, veterans with the disorder can begin to reprocess traumatic events and become desensitized to them, perhaps suffering fewer side effects like insomnia, nightmares and flashbacks.
“One of the hallmarks of P.T.S.D. is avoidance,” Dr. Kramer said. “Patients spend an awful lot of time and energy trying not to think about it or talk about it. But behaviorally, avoidance is what keeps the trauma alive. With virtual reality, we can put them back in the moment. And we can do it in a gradual, controlled way.” (Story continues here).
The irony here – that essentially the same software is being used to train war fighters and to later heal those men and women – shows how everything is “empty” until human emotions and intentions are applied. Video games are no different.