04 July 2014

Serious Games: Virtual Reality and Post Traumatic Stress


The last decade of war is unique in that many of the soldiers grew up in the tech era and have been accustomed to video games and virtual reality for almost all of their lives.  It’s no surprise video game consoles have followed the young men and women to bases abroad, as some relief from the daily duty grind.  

On the flip side, the games have become incredibly realistic, sometimes triggering flashbacks to high-stress combat situations for veterans who play.  This visceral reaction to the imagery and sounds of video games is actually being targeted by the military to reach soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

A game called Beyond the Front, created by WILL Interactive, incorporates “serious” themes instead of the mindless violence in order to reach soldiers on a deeper and more profound level.  75 percent of the company’s business comes from the military, showing the growing popularity of these “serious” games.  Similar products exist for other high-stress fields like surgeons, who are exposed to the traumatic procedures they will perform on patients through the games.  

Most of these games are non-combat related and focus more on highly stressful, emotional, and risky issues like suicide prevention, sexual assault, and reintegration into civilian life.  

The major technological leaps over the last couple years have brought about highly realistic virtual reality helmets that really allow soldiers to immerse themselves back into the environments where they confront their stresses and trauma.  According to the Journal of CyberTherapy and Rehabilitation, over 15 studies entailing diverse populations have shown that virtual-reality exposure therapy (VRET) enhances traditional cognitive-behavioral-treatment regimens for PTSD. Most of the studies report success rates between 66 to 90 percent.  

The benefits to soldiers’ mental health is clear, but many people still have skeptical views on the widespread use of video games in society.  It seems like the more traditional treatment routes are being left behind while a generation of young soldiers are finding relief in an activity many of them grew up with.  What do you think of this new trend?  Have you or do you know anyone who has used video games to help with recovery?

Weigh in on the discussion here and connect within the military network.

Image Copyright: US Air Force

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