Virtual reality technology is gaining popularity in video gaming circles, but the devices could soon extend their usefulness into treating gambling addiction.
With its giant goggles, expensive proprietary hardware and its tendency to leave users looking pretty foolish to onlookers, it’s a wonder that virtual reality (VR) has grown as popular as it has become. The Oculus Rift became a household name among techies, and almost singlehandedly launched the product into the consumer sphere.
VR has allowed users to engage in simulated worlds with their whole body using close-to-life movements. This technology has ramifications well beyond household gaming for entertainment. If developed and perfected, the technology could become a valuable tool for training military or medical personnel, allowing the creation of art in a three-dimensional space or assisting in physical therapy.
One team of researchers at the Cyberpsychology Laboratory at Universite du Quebec en Outaouais has been trying to harness the technology’s potential to assist in a therapeutic context for the past 18 years. Recently, they’ve been focused on creating VR software to help those who suffer from gambling addiction.
Stephane Bouchard, the founder of the Cyberpsychology Laboratory, wants to use VR as a way of placing patients into environments where they can practice facing the temptation of gambling without real consequences.
“If a patient is addicted to cocaine, I can talk with the patient forever, but what really matters is how he or she deals with the situation when cocaine is in front of that person,” Bouchard said, according to Vocativ. “The best thing I would like to do in therapy is to actually offer cocaine to the patient—but that obviously is not possible.”
Bouchard believes that VR would give therapists, and patients themselves, insight into how they might react in a real-life scenario in which they could fall victim to their gambling addictions.
While critics might ask what the difference between VR simulations and just letting the patient loose into a casino would be, the defining factor is the control the therapist has over the scenario presented to the patient. Depending on how far along a patient is in treatment, the temptations presented—as well as distractions from them—can be carefully controlled by the therapist.
The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that two million Americans suffer from pathological gambling. For those with this addiction, therapy is essential, and Bouchard believes that VR will become a valuable tool in fighting pathological gambling.