Upcoming Project to Treat PTSD in OpenSim

OpenSimulator, often abbreviated as opensim, is an open source project used to develop virtual worlds. The public environment, osgrid, is not populated or sophisticated enough to host in-world displays.

A Canadian programmer with avatar named Whitestar Magic claimed to have been working since 2008 on a highly immersive simulation using OpenSim for treating post-traumatic stress disorder. The program would be targeted at combat veterans from the Canadian military who are shut-ins or could not easily access conventional therapy. Whitestar warned of the immersive potential of the program, "It has to be well guided and controlled and many protocols have to be in place because of the nature of what is being done. It can cause harm for some people and so an awareness and understanding toward the immersive stuff can get them into situations, i.e. PTSD Trauma, which needs to be managed. There has to be fall back support if a participant is triggered and is reliving situations as a result of the immersion."

This therapeutic tool seems to have serious support from the Canadian government. Whitestar described the program as having, "Two psychologists with more than 20 years of experience, three clinical psychiatrists and several psychology students that will be "Facilitators & Actors" within the scenarios." Whitestar is part of a small contracted team constructing the environment.

There is some precedent for using virtual worlds to treat PTSD, although they have not yet been deployed in a widely accessible virtual space for observation by the general public. The major study using this in a clinical environment used the X-Box as a platform for the virtual world. View the Report.This PTSD treatment system, developed by the USC Institute of Creative Technology, is a proprietary non-networked VR system, developed entirely in-house. In this 2009 study it appears the treatment scenarios lead to a marked decline in the severity of flashbacks. Researchers considered a successful aspect of this treatment to be the visual immersion without relying on memory afforded by a virtual environment. The scenarios were created with assets from a much older game, so visual fidelity was not reflective of current technology.

Whitestar claims OpenSim has been chosen for development since the platform can be managed in complete private on a local server, unlike Second Life. Since the foundation is already built it is preferred to building a virtual reality simulation from scratch. This upcoming project will benefit from the extensibility of the OpenSim platform to improve the graphics and create deeper immersion for patients. Whitestar said the program was in stage two, the testing stage, of a five stage program. Presumably each level would add immersive realism and scenarios to the existing system based in the OpenSim platform. A timeline as to when the system would be ready for use was not given, though it is likely already in testing and apparently still very secretive.

It should be noted that WhiteStar Magic provided no real life name or means to verify his credentials. Since the project is a secret there are currently no means to verify its existence. However, his testimony does represent an accurate portrayal of work being done in using virtual environments to treat psychological disorders.