October 22, 2009, 7:13 pm
By Claire Cain Miller — Many veterans are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious problems, like post-traumatic stress disorder, but only one-third get medical help. One researcher has built a healing center for veterans in a virtual world, where she hopes they will be more comfortable seeking care. Jacquelyn Ford Morie is a senior researcher at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California. She formerly did animation for Disney. She calls her current project, which she presented at the Web 2.0 Summit on Thursday, Coming Home. The healing center is in Second Life, a virtual world. It has a big lodge, where people can spend time and talk with each other, anonymously if they prefer. They can sit around a fireplace, play games in the game room or relax on a deck next to a waterfall. They can climb a tower, where they will meet a historical warrior who tells them stories about his life. There are also real-world interactions in the virtual world. A veteran’s avatar can go for a jog. The onscreen action is powered by the human behind the screen breathing in a slow, relaxed way. There is also a stress reduction center, where experts from the Center for Mindfulness of the University of California, San Diego can take the form of avatars online and conduct sessions for the veterans. In one of the lodge’s rooms, veterans can find bulletin boards with lists of helpful Web sites and other offline resources they can seek out.