By Bob Brewin 09/01/2009
Combat veterans rarely talk about their most searing hidden emotions and thoughts caused by their experiences in battle, a reticence that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. The Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles is near completing Coming Home, a virtual world in Second Life that its creators hope will help break down the barriers to PTSD treatment, said Jacquelyn Morie, a project leader at ICT. The institute developed a virtual world that features immersive therapy, which mental health professionals can use to treat Iraq combat veterans suffering form PTSD called Virtual Iraq. The site includes a virtual Iraqi village that veterans can walk through. ICT initially planned to use the village in Second Life, but in a recent paper that Morie wrote, a veteran told her that he found the Iraqi village “disturbingly realistic, and he did not believe that any veteran should be allowed to explore the village without a therapist at his side.” The insight led to development of what Morie described as a nonthreatening environment in Second Life that she hopes will become a place of “camaraderie and healing.” The work, which began in January, has resulted in Chicoma Island, open only to veterans. Although the Veterans Affairs Department operates 232 counseling centers nationwide to help veterans with PTSD, many do not visit them out of fear of confronting their own demons, distrust of VA or because they live too far from a center.