Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snow World

As I write this, not far from Washington, DC, a major snow storm is raging outside. Forecasts call for over 20 inches (50 cm) of snow on the ground, and current accumulation is already not far from that.

With all this snow outside, I can't help but remember Snow World, a VR pain management experience that was one of first useful non-gaming VR applications. Developed many years ago at the University of Washington by Dr. Hunter Hoffman, Dr. David Patterson and a team from Firsthand, SnowWorld is a simple game that takes place in an icy canyon where users throw snow balls at snowmen and penguins, Clinical trials have shown that when burn victims use this game, patients report a dramatic reduction in pain.

See this report from NBC News about the experience:

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The ability of VR to 'trick' the brain is being used not just for therapy - just like in snow-world - but also in other areas. For instance, Redirected Walking uses subtle visual cues to make people walk in circles inside a limited space, even though they think they are walking in a straight line. This technique is being used in The Void experience today. Redirected walking allows experiencing a large virtual world in spite of being constricted to a smaller physical space, helps avoid physical obstacles and It allows multiple people to be immersed in the same physical space without bumping into each other.

Similarly, the usefulness of VR in therapy is not limited to pain management but extends to other areas such as PTSD, fear of flying, fear of heights, fear of public speaking and much, much more.

VR gaming is great, but VR applications like Snow World can have a more important impact on those that need it.

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