Virtual-reality game ‘Snow World’ used as pain-management aid

snowworldSEATTLE — University of Washington researchers have developed a new pain-management tool for patients undergoing agonizing medical treatments: A virtual-reality video game that is reducing the need for potent narcotics.

“When you put it on, it`s like you go into your own virtual world and just play; it`s actually quite fun,” said James Morales, a boy who used the game while being treated for burns over nearly 60 percent of his body at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. “The burns when I first came in hurt really bad.”

The high-tech game, “Snow World,” was created by UW researchers Drs. David Patterson and Hunter Hoffman.

“There`s a long line of research that distraction, anywhere from doing math problems to watching movies, that all of it can take the edge off of pain. But this is a very elaborate type of distraction and it`s working levels beyond what typical distraction would do,” Patterson said.

In the game, patients in a virtual-reality arctic environment shoot snowballs at penguins, mastodons, snowmen and even fish. “You`re distracted and it just gets rid of the pain,” James said.

His occupational therapist, Heather Hoffman, agrees.

“Sometimes, especially children, get a little anxious when I’m about to start stretching where they`re hurting, and so it allows them to be distracted and just be a little less anxious … and then I tell them afterwards how much range I achieved and it kind of gives them more confidence,” Hoffman said.

In tests, the game decreases a patient’s pain and the need for strong narcotic medications.  It also helps to improve a patients overall rehab and state of mind.

James said, “I never knew that a video game could help you with your pain, when you`re doing stuff, it`s weird.”

Military burn centers have been collaborating with Patterson and Hunter Hoffman to test “Snow World” in the treatment of combat burns. That research has shown not only that patients report less pain while playing “Snow World,” but that MRI scans show the game reduces the brain’s pain signals.

20 comments

  • Carl Blank

    Im glad that i was able to see my best friends son go through this kind of pain management even though he has always been a trooper when it comes to dealing with adult types of situations.

  • guest

    I am a chronic pain sufferer and I have noticed that distractions to help a lot with pain management. All sorts of media helps, like movies, music, and reading. But when I play my favorite video games, specifically the Formula 1 2012 game, I get so distracted that I don't even consider how bad my pain is. So it isn't just some placebo thing going on, video games actually do help a lot more than anyone would have thought. Now, as someone with chronic pain I know that for some people video games cannot be a complete substitute for pain medication, but it can help the patient so they don't have to take as much.

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