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Burn patients find relief in Snow World.
December 4, 2008 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Researchers have known for several years now that video games can distract people from pain. Now one virtual-reality game, developed for burn patients, has added a conceptual boost to this idea; the action takes place in a snowy landscape populated by penguins and snowmen. Wounded soldiers who have played the game (wearing VR goggles to help block out the sight of their burns being treated) report a reduction in pain of 30-50%. "Patients reported feeling less pain when playing Snow World, and had greater range of motion in their burnt limbs as their muscles relaxed. Less pain medication was also required, meaning patients were lucid for longer periods of time." In this video, one wounded vet talks about how the game has helped him.
posted by GrammarMoses (34 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm surprised they didn't use Tux Racer for this.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:59 AM on December 4, 2008


This is awesome.

I do wonder how much pain reduction would be reported if the VR game involved some sort of porn, though. Sadly, I really do wonder.
posted by Justinian at 12:00 PM on December 4, 2008


I was wondering if they did a study with different game environments. I mean, it sounds a bit callous, but would they get the same pain relief playing "Really Hot Desert World"? I wonder if it's the game or the specifics of the simulated environment.
posted by GuyZero at 12:01 PM on December 4, 2008


The control group, who played this game, reported a startlingly high amount of pain considering they didn't have any injuries whatsoever.
posted by DU at 12:07 PM on December 4, 2008 [9 favorites]


(laughs childishly) Slide!
posted by PROD_TPSL at 12:12 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


(laughs childishly) Slide!

The action takes place in a snowy landscape populated by penguins and snowmen and Helena Bonham Carter?
posted by Justinian at 12:18 PM on December 4, 2008


More proof that the mind is an amazing, fucked up piece of work that we don't really know shit about.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:26 PM on December 4, 2008


There was a playable version of this game up at the Boston ICA a few months ago. It was extremely basic, just an on rails shooter where you hit penguins with snowballs. I wonder if a more complicated and engaging game would have a greater effect, or if there is something inherently soothing about simple easy game play.
posted by CaptMcalister at 12:28 PM on December 4, 2008


torrent plz
posted by porn in the woods at 12:35 PM on December 4, 2008


I wonder how this compares to watching a really engrossing movie?

I'd also wonder how it compares to playing a really amazing, excellent game. Something like the canal hoverboat section of Half-Life 2 that just keeps you moving along so fast you can hardly notice what's going on around you in the game, much less what's going on in the room in real life.
posted by straight at 12:39 PM on December 4, 2008


I mean, it sounds a bit callous, but would they get the same pain relief playing "Really Hot Desert World"? I wonder if it's the game or the specifics of the simulated environment.

There's a quote in the second linked article which I think provides your answer.
“Snow is the opposite of fire,” Mr. Hoffman told ScienCentral, and it distracts them “from remembering their original injury.”
posted by Spatch at 12:39 PM on December 4, 2008


This makes fantastic sense, though I'm a little surprised I never noticed considering how obvious it seems once the idea has been suggested; I had a loose crown on one of my molars that hurt like hell, a couple of minor painkillers and a good video-game and I didn't think about my mouth once for the rest of the night. It never even occurred to me to wonder about why this might have been.

But once you aren't thinking about it, the pain kind of stops being an issue.

Brilliant.
posted by quin at 12:45 PM on December 4, 2008


All choked up over here. For real.

Sending this to all the video game haters I know. VINDICATION!

Gotta say though, you can take my burnt ass to Ironforge.

(And you can keep the Paul Simon, too.)
posted by chronkite at 12:57 PM on December 4, 2008


For some reason the VR game, Better Than Life, in Red Dwarf springs to mind...
posted by i_cola at 1:12 PM on December 4, 2008


“Snow is the opposite of fire,” Mr. Hoffman told ScienCentral, and it distracts them “from remembering their original injury.”

People injured by exploding barrels or while pushing crates around should probably not apply.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:20 PM on December 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


“Snow is the opposite of fire,” Mr. Hoffman told ScienCentral, and it distracts them “from remembering their original injury.”

So will a game about fire demons in lava land be effective with frostbite victims?
posted by pokermonk at 1:32 PM on December 4, 2008


I wonder if a more complicated and engaging game would have a greater effect, or if there is something inherently soothing about simple easy game play

Keep in mind, they're playing hands-free, presumably using eye-tracking. How complicated do you want to make it?
posted by anthill at 1:42 PM on December 4, 2008


They could use this control layout instead, maybe.
posted by anthill at 1:45 PM on December 4, 2008


The control group, who played this game, reported a startlingly high amount of pain considering they didn't have any injuries whatsoever.

Well, if you play the snow game *while* playing that game, it really isn't so bad.
posted by LordSludge at 1:47 PM on December 4, 2008


One of the weird offshoots of our military industrial complex is that the armed forces get a lot of breakthroughs before laypeople. I find it a little odd that so many soldiers end up being guinea pigs, but then again, I understand that in a lot of cases their needs might be greater than with a lot of other people.

Anyway, this reminds me of an article Chuck Klosterman wrote in esquire a few years ago about a new drug the military was giving to a few test subjects with post traumatic stress disorder which basically keeps their bodies from releasing adrenaline. The idea was that one of the things that makes PTSD so debilitating is that if something reminds you of your past traumatic experience, it floods you with fight or flight chemicals that are innappropriate to the current non-traumatic situation, and since anything can remind someone of their traumatic experience, their chances of exhibiting inappropriate or disturbed behavior is much higher. Therefore, the key was to break the link between the memory and the chemical / physical response. They had people remember the memory when they were incapable of feeling the physical side effects and were trying to see if eventually they could remember the memory while not on the drug and without seeing a massive rush of adrenaline being released. If they managed to defuse the stress response to the memory, then the people would be far more likely to act calmly in public, even when they were reminded of their trauma.

However, what Klosterman points out - and whats already come out a little in this thread - is that the nonmilitary uses of this technology are a lot stranger and possibly more ethically troubling. For example, if someone is raped, I think the consensus is that they should have access to this drug (if its proven safe and that it works), but what if someone just has a really bad day? How traumatic does a trauma have to be? And what about the death of a loved one - shouldn't there be some sort of associated pain with something like that? Its not that the upsides aren't amazing, its that the potential for abuse is sort of mindboggling; that drug would have the potential to turn people quasi-autistic because while they were on it, could they feel shame or a sense of repurcussion for their actions? What happens to society when people voluntarily stop feeling societal pressure?

So I guess while I appreciate the thought that being immersed in a VR world lessens the pain of deeply wounded people, I am a little uneasy about the whole concept because the next step seems to be "well, what if my molar hurts?" and "do you remember that game on the tv show that people lived their whole lives inside?"

But I guess the slippery slope is nothing new to medicine, since I'd gladly allow say vicodin or morphine in a hospital before I'd allow it for general use on say a college campus.
posted by Kiablokirk at 1:49 PM on December 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


“Snow is the opposite of fire,” Mr. Hoffman told ScienCentral, and it distracts them “from remembering their original injury.”

This only implies that they are hypothesising that the snow is a cause of the beneficial effect. If you read the actual paper, they did not try any alternative environments, and the only claim they actually make is that the immersive VR environment is helping, not the nature of the environment.
posted by jacalata at 2:17 PM on December 4, 2008


Huh. What kind of game can I play to distract me from a sinus headache and a drippy nose?
posted by Foosnark at 2:21 PM on December 4, 2008


Given the role of endoginous opiates in pain reduction, and how males and females demonstrate different [warning: pdf] reward-related brain activity under MRI during video game play, my first thought was I wonder how pain reduction through video games might play out differently along gender lines (specifically: more effective for men).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:23 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's actually some research on vaginal stimulation (oddly, not clitoral) as a type of pain relief-- the idea being that there's a mechanism there for labor (obviously, a not especially effective one, I might add). They did demonstrate pain reduction-- and you can demonstrate pain relief associated with sexual arousal, so porn would probably work, though you'd never get funded to find out.
posted by Maias at 2:29 PM on December 4, 2008


Neat therapy, but NOT. THIS. GAME
posted by greenskpr at 2:44 PM on December 4, 2008


I'd like it more if the guys didn't disappear when you shot them, the penguins should run away and the snowmen should fall over. I guess you could add seals too if they don't have them already.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:51 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


That may not be labor-related, Maias, as I recall some anthropological reporting of infant penis stimulation as a means to quell discomfort/crying. Likely again opiates doing the work.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:51 PM on December 4, 2008


We're talking indigenous populations, if I wasn't clear.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:52 PM on December 4, 2008


I read something research-y that said thinking of sex, or having it, can distract you from pain.
I surmise sex can distract one from a lot of things. I don’t know if I could write off plo-chops on my medical insurance.
But I think the trick is focusing the mind on something other than the pain. The real enemy is the idle moments. With porn, I dunno, after a bit I think you might get bored. Porn is more visceral.
Games, I’d think, are more mentally engaging.
Meditation always worked for me. Just build a world or focus on a certain spot. But it’d be tough to learn in situ.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:35 PM on December 4, 2008


Reading does this for me almost as well as video games. I think first person games may work better for this, and I've definitely not noticed pain while playing video games — to the extent that I tend unconsciously to prefer video games to analgesics. I played Snow World while it was on display at Cooper Hewitt, but I wasn't in pain at the time, so I can't testify personally to its effectiveness. I'm sure it works as a proof of concept, but it's too damn boring to play day in day out.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:03 PM on December 4, 2008


This is fascinating. Great post, GrammarMoses.
posted by homunculus at 5:42 PM on December 4, 2008


So much trauma, so much waste. That necessity may be the mother of invention is not in dispute. Why so many need so much remunerative/rehabilitative enterprise is solely the result of foreign policy gone haywire. I have been to the burn unit. My husband's injuries were nothing compared to what our earnest "troops" (sic) have experienced. But seeing him cry out in pain (and knowing his unusually high pain threshold) fuck that shit.

My father used to play board games with me all night when I had chronic sore throats. I was always amazed that while we were playing my throat stopped hurting. It didn't stop hurting; I just stopped feeling it. It wasn't that the pain was psychosomatic. I just stopped thinking about it, substituting another subject of thought in the place of pain.

Pain is real and big. I am sorry software engineers have to use their talents creating games like "Snow World." What a waste of human ingenuity. But again, where need leads, creation will follow.
posted by emhutchinson at 6:25 PM on December 4, 2008


Similar to a study a few years back proving that people who played Power World, a videogame in which the player is presented as a superstrong space marine who must murder prostitute demons in an alternate universe Los Angeles in order to save Earth from an alien invasion, experienced a 30%-50% reduction in feelings of powerlessness and lack of purpose. Unfortunately the sensations returned and even increased after cessation of play, suggesting limited therapeutic potential.
posted by stammer at 7:50 PM on December 4, 2008


Snow might have something to do with it.

When I played Bully, in which you fall asleep after a certain time, I had a dramatic response to that aspect. This was before my headaches were under control and I could not sleep through the night so I bitterly resented my characters regular, sound sleep. Got really tense every 30 minutes or however often it happened. Many times, I would actually pause and get up to go do something, only to realize when I came back that I was restlessly trying to avoid watching that horrible kid and his calm, soothing night's sleep.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:22 PM on December 4, 2008


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