Violence continues shredding the real world, but virtual worlds may be able to help. Acclaimed Second Life artist Bryn Oh (pseudonym of a Canadian painter), recently announced a project she did with the US military, creating a tranquil, beautiful virtual space as therapy for military personnel suffering from PTSD.
To the uninitiated, this may seem like a strange idea, but veterans and active duty service members have been using Second Life for just that purpose for years:
After all, some vets are uncomfortable about discussing their PTSD in public for many reasons, and are often physically disabled and/or live in remote areas, making it logistically difficult for them to commune in person with fellow service people. In these cases and others, a virtual community of avatars embodied in a shared space seemed like an ideal solution. That intuition was recently confirmed by an individual infinitely more qualified to speak on the subject: retired Marine Lt. Col. Jay Kopelman, who's now director of the vet support organization Freedom Is Not Free. In a speech at East Carolina University, which is experimenting with SL as a PSTD treatment platform, Kopelman addressed the subject of Second Life as a therapy tool: “I know Marines that say that Second Life is working when nothing else has," he said.
Today (like many other days), with real world news of terrorism and violent unrest at a fevered pitch, it's somewhat difficult to write about virtual worlds and games, but knowing that they can offer some healing to the wounds we keep inflicting on ourselves may offer some solace. Bryn writes on a similar theme in her announcement:
In a fighting environment being killed and killing are both fears, and so there are various ways to look at the trauma of war for a soldier. I spoke to various soldiers during the creation of this work and some of the things they wanted was pretty interesting. One, for example, wanted to simply be able to write things down that happened to him and to place them in a stream so they would float away. Some notes he said he would like others to be able to read... while others he wished would sink and disappear never to be read by another soul.
... The idea behind this work was to help the soldiers learn how to do things we take for granted, but can be difficult for them just from inexperience or effects of PTSD. Things like planning a camping trip... to go to a few different stores in the virtual environment to buy a sleeping bag, a tent, a fishing rod, bait, a hat and so on... Ways to deal with frustrations. The psychologist from Boston can now meet up with the soldiers in the virtual space. There is no distance to overcome.
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