March 09, 2005

Schizophrenia in Computer Game

I've just read in the Wonderland blog that the experience of schizophrenia has been integrated into a internet-based multi-player roll-playing game, for educational effect.

Cory Ondrejka, VP of Product Development for Linden Labs (the producer of the game - called "Second Life") is quoted by the blogger as saying:

...the game includes "Virtual Hallucinations. Done by a medical doctor who built a place that looks sort of like a hospital. It plays voices from interviews with schizophrenics as you move around the environment. It recreates hallucinations similar to those experienced by schizophrenics: voices from objects, objects that don’t actually exist. There’s a survey at the end. Did this explain schizophrenia to you? Did you find this disturbing? He got about 700 survey responses (for free) so far. He took real-life doctors and schizophrenics families through.. it’s early prototype work, but it’s a very powerful direction for the game to go in."

It seems like this part of the game - if done well - could be a very powerful educational tool for high-schools, families, mental health professionals and advocacy organizations.

If anyone has any experience with this part of the game, please let us know your opinion of it.

Here is one person's report on the schizophrenia part of this game;
In A Lever to Move the Mind the writer states

"The Virtual Hallucinations building arrived on Sedig's southern shoreline a few days ago (coordinates: 45, 25), but I had a chance to visit the place in August, when the building resided on a private island owned by the medical research arm of a California university. The brainchild of Nash Baldwin—“Nash”, named after John Nash of A Beautiful Mind, for reasons that’ll soon become obvious—the building contains a closely researched recreation of visual and aural hallucinations, based on interviews of real schizophrenics. Baldwin transplanted the simulation to Second Life's public continent, to give residents a chance to try it out, and to collect their feedback afterward (there’s a survey-taking device at the end of the tour), and as I first watched residents enter the doors, yesterday, I wondered if they’d feel the same kind of terror I did, last month."...

"The concept of creating a visual recreation of a purely internal experience originated with Baldwin’s colleague Dr. Peter Yellowlees, an Australian psychiatrist who often treated his patients in the Outback remotely, via video conferencing. This inspired his idea to visualize the hallucinations associated with schizophrenia, a mental illness that afflicts some one percent of the population (mostly people in their teens and 20’s). To determine what they hallucinated, Yellowlees compiled interviews with his patients, to draw out specifics. What kind of voices? How many voices? Like a police sketch artist of the mind, an artist drew out the visual descriptions, and Dr. Yellowlees integrated the results into a computer mockup. The first attempt was produced on a Silicon Graphics machine, and took nine months to build from scratch. ("Which doesn't look anything as good,” Nash promises me, as we begin the tour, “as what you're about to see.") By contrast, Baldwin put his Second Life version together in some three weeks."

You can visit the "Virtual Hallucinations" world on the Internet today for free. Here are the directions for getting there:

Accessing Virtual Hallucinations"

More information on the game at Lindon Lab.

and here at "Second Life" - the game web site.


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