More Than Just Video Games

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Virtual Reality opens a new world to those with cerebral palsy

The HTC Vive (Photo courtesy of Vive)

Virtual Reality (VR) has had fluctuating popularity after booming in the mid 2010s; but for some people, it is more than just a video game console.

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a movement disorder that causes many symptoms, such as lack of balance, poor coordination, muscle stiffness, tremors and hearing and speech deficiencies. Since the symptoms are so severe, it unfortunately affects a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks such as cutting their food, walking, writing and fluent speaking.

Since CP affects a person’s motor skills, it prevents them from participating in physical activities. Brett Bodi, now 28 years old, experiences side effects of his CP on a day-to-day basis, even after taking his medication.

“If I forget to take my medication, my muscles become spastic, motor skills are out the window and my muscles work way too hard for even the smallest of efforts,” Bodi said. “Even though I take my medication every day, there are some lingering effects, including weak motor skill control. For example, threading a sewing needle is not possible.”

Fortunately, VR is able to bring some of those actions to life. HTC released the Vive back in 2016, a VR headset to display a field of view almost identical to a human’s, and sensors that can be mounted on a wall that provide the player with a walking grid of 15’x15′, but can also be tracked by sitting in a chair and using the controllers to move your character.
Bodi has a passion for video games so he purchased the Vive on its launch date. Bodi didn’t intend on buying the Vive because of his CP, instead he got it because it was different.

“It is a new form of exercise that opens up options, but my CP wasn’t the main motive behind buying it [the Vive]. Rather, the existing flat-screen games and application we use simply became stale and VR is a new medium that opened up fresh experiences that are more or less harder for me,” Bodi said.

Most of the popular VR games were already released for consoles such as Xbox or PlayStation, for example, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Resident Evil, is one of the most popular video game titles of all time and when it was introduced into the world of VR, sales boomed due to the true fear factor of turning around and seeing a zombie in your face.

Even though the most popular VR games are more explicit than some people may like, it is still practical according to Benjamin Herman, a computer teacher at the Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County.

“There’s been some really excellent scientific research, actually, when it comes down to actually helping students with mobility issues. The research has shown us that if you use your mind and think about the activities at hand, your coordination and musculature will actually improve,” Herman said. “It is a very interesting thing if you think about it, essentially as people think and put themselves in the virtual world, their mind and body is actually showing improvement in the real world.”

VR also has a social component to it as well. One of the most popular games on VR is VRChat, a game that lets you play as almost any fictional or non-fictional character you’d like, which is something that the students at CP Nassau do.

“You can be whoever you want, interact with whatever you want to interact with and you see what’s called an avatar of yourself, which is essentially how you envision yourself,” Herman said.

Herman emphasized Google Maps’ street view feature and how it has VR components that benefit people with CP.

“You can click on a street and scroll around and you don’t usually think of that as bizarre, but it actually is. Why it’s so good for people with physical disabilities is if they’re wondering if this place has handicapped parking,” Herman said.

There is more to virtual reality than just turning around to shoot a zombie. Virtual reality puts those less fortunate in a world where they can do things that they only dream of.

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