Better than opiates


Session Title:

  • Transformative Creativity - Participatory Practices I

Presentation Title:

  • Better than opiates



  • Abstract

    Although computer science research in immersive virtual environments (VR) has waned, real-world applications have grown and are used daily in numerous areas. These range from entertainment, education, pilot and surgical training, to clinical treatment for a host of illnesses, addiction and detoxification, visualizations and visual analytics, and world heritage sites, to name a few. Building on our experience of recognized virtual environments for medical applications, medical visualizations and forms of meditation, in this paper we compare ‘traditional’ immersive virtual environments with alternative, artistic virtual environments (sometimes termed responsive spaces or installations). These have all been funded and are in use by patients who suffer from chronic pain.
    Past research and testing conducted in immersive virtual environments for use in alleviating pain were found to be consistently more effective than opiates during times of acute pain. Subsequent VR environments developed for numerous kinds of pain ‘distraction’, modulation and relief were found to be similarly successful. The suite of immersive virtual environments (VEs) described in this paper compare what has become ‘standard’ types of VR (which involve head-mounted displays [HMDs] or CAVES) with physically built, aesthetically engaging, alternative virtual environments that similarly occlude all but the VE. These alternative VEs were conceived of primarily by artists and by researchers who are experts in both computer science and art. All work was developed in collaboration with a team of physicians, psychiatrists, artists and designers, computer scientists and engineers and patients. These works were rigorously tested following scientific and medical protocols. In addition, the artistic aspects were also consistently tested following the practices and knowledge bases of scientific AND artistic realms. Since little research concerning consistently used and widely disseminated VEs has been conducted, we discuss differences and similarities in knowledge bases, how these influenced the conceptualization, realization and use of our immersive VR work by our collaborators and patients. Further, we examine the legitimization and recognition of our work by differing disciplinary communities, ethics review boards and granting agencies.
    Studied over a decade, we conclude this paper by careful discussions of the importance of artistic practices: aesthetics; conceptualization practices and content creation; the specificities of which ideas, interface designs and media elements worked, didn’t work and why; and demonstrate the importance and variability of emerging forms of research in the Arts as it relates to our context of VR and pain.