The Brits are using a simulated combat environment developed by the University of Southern California, to treat soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
By bringing to life a "virtual Iraq," complete with the realistic thumps and bumps of battle, the program allows troops to "relive and confront psychological trauma." All this takes place in a graduated manner so as not to re-traumatize, according to the University of Reading's Visualisation Centre.
The Iraq simulation experience is "fully immersive," meaning that patients wear VR goggles that transport them to the virtual battlefield. There, an attending therapist dials up the sights and sounds of roadside bombs, gunfire and low-flying helicopters. Don't forget the stench of battle; bouquets include gunpowder, cordite, burning rubber, Iraqi spices and B.O. The patient takes all this in while talking through the experience with the therapist.
Wearing the headsets does pose the risk of heightened trauma, University of Reading scientist Professor Paul Sharkey admitted. To avoid this, treatment is "carefully controlled by psychologists."
The goal is for "people to manage their emotional responses," Sharkey says. "For example, when a car backfires, you want to help a patient get to the point where he doesn't have a flashback of a gun going off."
The Iraq scenario has been around for a while, having been pieced together and then extensively customized by "recycling" virtual graphics from the U.S. Army combat tactical simulation trainer and the X-Box Full Spectrum Warrior, according to the USC development team.
Burning rubber and B.O.? Sign us up.