I heard an interview with Dr. Jacquelyn Morie (avatar name Chingaling Bling) of the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) discussing the Transitional Online Post-Deployment Soldier Support in Virtual Worlds.
There were a number of things that I got out of this. First off all, anyone who has been a soldier or knows soldiers returning from a deployment in a war zone like Iraq or Afghanistan knows that there can be lasting effects, like disabilities or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that are not easy to overcome while at the same time trying to get back into a civilian life. The military is struggling to provide help. In a couple weeks, Dr. Morie will begin launching an island in Second Life called “Coming Home” that will be a place for soldiers to congregate online, as sort of a “VFW Hall of the 21st century”. The veteran’s healing center will focus on both social activities and intervention therapies. The therapies will be complimentary and alternative medical intervention – not mainstream, but proven effective for post-traumatic stress and other disorders. One of the aspects of using Second Life is that many veterans returning home are separated from others, and thus an online world is a good way for them to have a chance to congregate with others that are going through similar experiences. It may be possible that those that shun therapy otherwise may take advantage of it in Second Life because they can do so anonymously, and thus avoid the real or imagined social stigma that comes with it. ICT is a research group, and thus will be measuring the effectiveness of Second Life to help with post–deployment soldier support. It will be interesting to see what they learn from this.
Speaking of ICT’s research – I took a look around their website and saw they have a lot of cool things they’ve been doing for some time that may be really cool to see in virtual worlds. For instance, they have 10-15 years of research on virtual humans. “Imagine a simulated training where the characters you interact with are almost human — they converse, they understand, can reason and exhibit emotions. Such a simulation will open up whole new horizons for teaching and learning.”
Another interesting avenue is the Virtual Reality Cognitive Performance Assessment Test: “The VRCPAT makes use of virtual environments to create a battery of neuropsychological measures to assess the ways in which the structure and function of the brain relate to specific psychological processes and overt behaviors: attention-vigilance, effort, abstraction-flexibility, executive functioning, spatial organization, visual-motor processing, processing speed, visual memory, verbal abilities, and verbal memory and learning.”
This kind of research will help us understand more of the mechanics of how our brain, emotions, and senses interplay with virtual realities. This type of work will can help us make better use of virtual worlds for not only fun and creativity, but also as a tool for important things like learning and healing.