University of Southern California

Transitional Online Post-deployment Soldier Support in Virtual Worlds
(TOPSS-VW)

We envision Virtual Worlds as an advanced form of telehealth care that provides additional benefits over more commonly used modes of telehealth, such as video conferencing or web-based offerings. Proven traditional telehealth care Benefits:

  • Accessible from rural locations
  • Remote patient monitoring
  • Less travel
  • Positive impact on provider-client relationship
  • Cost savings (even with increased visits)
  • Better continuity in disease management
  • Reduces hospitialization

VWs can provide all these, and

  • Advantages of the customized environment that can be part of the psychological healing process
  • A large social component that facilitates strong peer support
  • An embodied component in the form of one's personal avatar that may represent their inner feelings.

Our research focuses on these three topics in the creation of new forms of health care using virtual world affordances.



Scenes from Coming Home include: Visitors interacting with the Guide agent, The Samurai Warrior for the Warrior's Journey Tower, and two shots from a recent Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class.

Descriptions

TOPSS-VW also known as "Coming Home," implements ICT's intelligent virtual humans within a specialized online virtual world for the benefit of post-deployment soldiers who are reintegrating to civilian life. This is often a difficult time for many soldiers due to both physical and psychological challenges. We believe the virtual world has great potential to mitigate many of these issues by providing a dedicated space where soldiers can interact, find camaraderie, and connect to resources for healing and transition.

Coming Home builds on two of ICT's strengths: immersive virtual world expertise and virtual human intelligence research. Drawing on our strengths, we have expanded current virtual world capabilities by making intelligent agents active participants within the world, where they can serve as helpers and guides 24/7. Such help can significantly enhance player experience and mitigate confusion over the virtual world offerings.

We have designed our space as a connected social network where soldiers can find camaraderie with others who have gone through recent wartime experiences. Thus, this environment serves a function similar to the twentieth century VFW Halls. In addition, soldiers can play games, find resources, and participate in therapeutic activities.

The center of the veterans' social space is Chicoma Lodge. The design of this warm and inviting lodge is patterned after National Park lodges of the American West. The central area, the Great Hall, contains comfortable seating areas around fireplaces, and an inviting decor that includes hunting, skiing, cowboy and Native American motifs. Additional seating areas on two decks to the rear of this space afford serene views of a lake fed by a cascading mountain waterfall, as well as wildlife indigenous to the area. Two large wings extending from the Great Hall are devoted to a wide range of games that encourage social interaction.

Most importantly, we have implemented an in-world version of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)-based intervention. Over two decades of clinical research validate MBSR's benefits when used as a supplement to a variety of health treatments. Working with MBSR experts for stress therapy, we have adapted the therapy to the virtual world and are offering it to veterans in Summer 2010.

Inspired by breathing techniques of many CAM therapies, as well as research in biofeedback, behavioral response to virtual humans, and advice from military social work experts, we have created and tested a virtual jogging path where a veteran uses controlled breathing to cause their avatar to run. Results on our first tests have shown a significant reduction in stress markers for participants. We expect users who engage in this enjoyable practice of technique will be better able to apply it to their CAM interventions.

We also provide a Warrior's Journey experience that consists of interactive narratives about the life and ideals of classic warriors, such as the Cheyenne dog Warrior and the Samurai, designed to be relevant to today's soldiers. We are currently working on an authoring system with intelligent agents who will guide veterans in creating their own Warrior's Journey story that others can experience in the virtual world.

More detailed information can be found in the paper:Re-Entry: Online worlds as a healing space for veterans , presented at the Engineering Reality of Virtual Reality 21st Annual IS&T/SPIE Symposium, San Jose, CA. January 2009.

Images from Chicoma Island and the Veterans Center can be found here

Images of the Enrichment activities can be seen here

The project described here is sponsored by the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM). Statements and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of the United States Government, and no official endorsement should be inferred.

Current Team

  • Jacquelyn Ford Morie, Project Lead

  • Kip Haynes, Programmer Analyst IV

  • Eric Chance, Technical Artist I

  • Dinesh Purohit, Programmer Analyst II


PLEASE NOTE

  • This is a research project that uses the Second Life online virtual world.

  • Second Life is huge. It contains everything from dance clubs to zoos. There is a recent trend to use the virtual world to promote real world good. That is where this project comes in. We saw a need that was huge, and were able to get funding to start a pilot program in Second Life just for veterans.

  • Second Life is also full of groups for all purposes. There is a fast growing group of veterans from ALL United States military endeavors active in the Second Life world. They have a wonderful space and great resources for veterans looking for information specific to their needs.

  • More information on accessing Second Life can be found at www.secondlife.com

Tags

Short Video

Click here for a
Short video introduction to Coming Home (2009)
Movie image