Monday, July 25, 2011

PTSD Information Island

Written 24 July, 2011

PDST Information Island

In World War I they called it shell shock. In World War II they called it battle fatigue. Now it's known as combat stress reaction. When it persists, it's known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

PTSD follows traumatic experiences that overwhelm the individual's ability to cope.

Since January the U.S. Department of Defense has maintained a region in Second Life devoted to educating people, and especially those who have served or are serving in the military, about PTSD and helping those with PTSD to learn to manage their condition while maintaining anonymity. It's called The Virtual PTSD Experience, or T2. Click here for the SLURL.

Those using the program can navigate their avatar virtually though situations that they actually may not be comfortable with in real life, explained Greg Reger, a clinical psychologist and acting chief if T2's Innovative Technology Applications Division.
"An individual can go into this space and go through a series of interactive simulations and experiences that really help them learn about the causes of PTSD, the symptoms, and how they can get help," he said.
 Throughout the program, a "relax button" is available when any scenario becomes too overwhelming. The user will be immediately transported to a relaxation room to listen to relaxing music or take part in relaxing breathing techniques.
Program creators hope that in the future the Virtual PTSD Experience can facilitate actual virtual patient appointments, where users can meet with mental health professionals using their avatars.
                -- Alexandra Hemmings-Brown,

Yesterday Sweetie and I visited. We wound up staying several hours.

I have to say that in terms of coherency, consistency, and structure of experience, T2 is perhaps the best sim I've ever visited. Great attention was paid to detail and every effort was made to make visitors with PTSD feel comfortable. The scripting was amazing.

And so, dear reader, I'll walk you through.

At the welcome areas we found links and reading material. The stands on each side of the reception desk (see photo above) were the same, which was handy. I browsed one side while Sweetie browsed the other.

T2 made heavy use of the new media-on-a-prim, showing movies at several steps along the way. Sweetie and I spent a good hour loading and running the Firestorm Beta browser and tweaking the many settings. I managed to make my HUDs disappear and switched back to Phoenix. Sweetie stayed in Firestorm, cursing it all the while-- but I noticed she was still using it today. I listened to the movies on her Mac, which was only ten feet away, since they wouldn't play in Phoenix.

When I touched the movie screen-- even in Phoenix-- my camera was dragged and focused and centered on the screen. I don't know if that's he way HTML-on-a-prim works or if it was scripting; if the latter, I don't understand how the script could gave gotten permission to control my camera. It wasn't unpleasant, but it did feel a bit freaky to have my camera grabbed like that when I wasn't sitting.

The only thing I found that didn't work was a basketball and net. I tried shooting some hoops, but build permissions were off so the basketball thrower couldn't rezz balls. Sad. It looked like fun. It can be easily fixed, though.

So, away Sweetie and I went on the virtual tour.

The first portion of the tour concerned the causes of PTSD.

Signage was excellent. T2s creators wanted to be sure those entering the Causes simulators knew exactly what was about to happen.

Sweetie and I attached the HUDs we had been given and were issued combat uniforms.

"Private Palisades reporting for duty, Captain Sweetie, SUH!"

"Wipe that lipstick off your face, soldier!"

We were then required to choose one of three levels of simulated combat severity.

We entered a Middle Eastern market street and were asked to sit in a Hummer.

 Inside the vehicle our cameras were strictly constrained, forcing us to look forward and scan the street. The scroll wheel wouldn't take me out of mouselook, the arrow keys wouldn't move my view, even the escape key did nothing. How did they DO that?

Everyone looked suspicious.

Even kids.

Sir! Stand still! Move and you will be shot!

Then it happened!

The anxiety meters in our HUDs redlined.

In the highest level, the soldiers on the road were killed or horribly injured.

After our tours of duty, Sweetie and I were sent to the airport...

... where we were issued everyday uniforms.

.. and put on a plane.

Since I didn't get a photo of the jetway, I went back today and took this picture.

We boarded and sat in the cabin of a jet, where we were shown a short film.

After about ten minutes we landed and exited in the virtual United States.

Our next destination was a mall...

...where we experienced symptoms of PTST and were quizzed as we wandered about.

We spent nearly an hour at the mall, which had lots of stores.

At one point I experienced a flashback, complete with visual hallucinations.

After we left the mall we entered a wind-down area.

Along our tour we were given chances to provide feedback about the experience.

There were even wheelchair ramps.

It was an educational and fun experience, and we left amazed at the scripting, and especially the masterful manipulation of our cameras when we were sitting in the Humvee.

Sadly, the region was empty when Sweetie and I visited yesterday, and again today when I visited for photos. What a shame! T2 is a wonderful place.

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