SnowWorld and Lt. Brown

Lt. Sam Brown survived an IED attack in Afghanistan in 2008, but the experience left him a burn victim. He has endured painful surgery and therapy since his return to the United States. The process is a different kind of battle than what the soldier was trained for, and it can take years. But thanks to Firsthand Technology and the University of Washington, the use of virtual reality as pain relief will aid in Lt. Brown’s recovery.

How Do They Do It?

Brown hooks up to an HMD during his treatment, on which he plays a game called SnowWorld. The game plays like an on-rails shooter set to the soundtrack of Paul Simon songs. The player throws snowballs at penguins and snowmen, and watches them poof away into nothing. There is no score to keep track of, nor lives to lose.

What's in the snowballs that make them blow up penguins like that?
What’s in the snowballs that make them blow up penguins like that?

Hunter Hoffman, of the University of Washington says the cold imagery is “supposed to cancel out and help distract them from remembering their original injury.”

In fact, the fMRI brain scans show how participants felt less pain while immersing in SnowWorld. The patients engage with the VR experience during their procedures. As a result, they don’t perceive the pain as much as they would with traditional procedures.

VR Pain Relief for Children

Brown is not the only patient benefiting from VR technology. USCF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland is using Simon Robertson’s kindVR to treat children with sickle cell disease. Patients like Briana dive into a virtual ocean during a pain episode. They find treasures hidden at the bottom of the ocean and interact with underwater creatures.

“It’s like a medicine that you don’t have to swallow,” says Briana.

kindVR allows the children to forget the pain that brought them into the hospital and instead “focus on getting better.” Doctor Anne Marsh looks forward to expanding the program and finding other applications in the hospital.

VR Pain Relief for Chronic Pain Sufferers

Doctor Diane Gromala and Simon Fraser University developed the Virtual Meditative Walk program to treat chronic pain sufferers. Their project showcases the greatest strength VR has in physical applications.

Courtesy Focus Forward Films/Vimeo
Courtesy Focus Forward Films/Vimeo

Immersing a patient in a virtual world is nothing new for cardio VR programs, but here Gromala connects the experience to the users themselves with a biofeedback sensor. As the chronic pain sufferer starts to relax, the fog in the virtual world dissipates.

Immersion and Interactivity in VR Fitness

VR fitness is the option for someone who is looking for more than the regular workout. We we be all be more fit if more people looked forward to fitness? Could VR equate fitness with fun than a chore? The technology being developed in the medical field could stand to make VR as a whole become more real than life without a headset.

– Osmond Arnesto

Have you seen a really cool VR experience you think we should know about? Leave a comment below so we can check it out!


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