Future Media/Virtual Experiences: Now More Like Our Real World

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Video games might be the most commonly recognized virtual experience and they become more realistic with each new release. Second Life has become an on-line web phenomenon that attracts a million unique visitors every week. Avitars (a user's alter-ego digital stand-in on the web) populate and ever growing world of virtual environments. The military trains soldiers in a game-like device that turns people into track-balls in order to allow them to navigate an infinite landscape. http://www.virtusphere.com/

What are some potential applications for virtual experiences designed for entertainment, education, marketing, political messages, and other purposes?

All of us have experienced virtual reality to one extent or another. When we become engrossed in a movie or a video game, we enter into a virtual world. For a brief period of time, we lose awareness of the world outside and our consciousness becomes focused on the sounds and images presented on the screen. However, virtual reality and immersive media is not solely reserved for games or media of the such, but it can AND has also been applied in fields such as psychology.

Numerous research in the past 7 years has been dedicated to the use of virtual reality in therapy, especially in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric disorders encountered in clinical practice, if not the most common. Standard treatment consists of psychotropic medication and psychotherapeutic interventions. A key psychotherapeutic intervention is exposure therapy. Exposure can be either imaginal, by having the patient imagine a particular scene (for instance, a traumatic war experience), or in vivo (for instance, having a patient who is afraid of flying go to an airport, watch planes take off, sit in an airplane seat, etc.).

A virtual exposure may have advantages over both imaginal and in vivo exposure. It may be superior to imaginal exposure in that it is much more life-like and therefore might be more effective. At the same time, it has many potential advantages over in vivo exposure. It is generally much less costly; it saves public embarrassment; it can be stopped if the symptoms get overwhelming. In addition, the key aspects can be repeated over and over; for instance, if someone has a fear of flying, and the therapist identifies that the take-off is the anxiety provoking aspect of flying, a virtual take-off can be replayed over and over again. Physiological monitoring of data such as heart or respiration rate is much easier to achieve during virtual than in vivo exposure. Finally, many situations that one would not replay, such as war trauma or sexual assault, can be addressed through the safety of virtual reality.