The New Yorker: Full Spectrum Warrior Therapy

James Yu pointed me in the direction of an extensive New Yorker article‘ about using a modified version of Full Spectrum Warrior to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s a form of Prolonged Exposure therapy, which means that negative responses are downgraded by repeated exposures to it. Basically. Very basically. Random quote from Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: “I’m not someone who responds to sitting with some guy, talking about my whole life. I’m going to go in and talk to some dude who doesn’t understand my shit and talk about my mom? I’m the worst of that kind of guy. So V.R. therapy, maybe it will work. We’re a video-game generation. It’s what we grew up on. So maybe we’ll respond to it.”


  1. essell says:

    The flipside to this being “videogames desensitising people to horrible things shocker!”…

  2. The Shed says:

    FSW is kinda…vaguely… no- barely traumatic. Doesn’t really make sense how this can help folk with PTSD at all!

  3. Heliocentricity says:

    I heard a crazy man explaining how “games” in the wider sense desensitise people. Make a target look like a man and that man will more willingly shoot an enemy in war.

    But when some has shot people? will shooting fake people bring relaxation?
    This treatment could backfire on people who are badly aflicted, certainly is an interesting thought.

    A word on full spectrum warrior though, its hardly the best game for the true brutality of war, cover is safe enemies are easily supressed and missions brief.

    They need to get those guys in arma, creeping along in bushes for 2 hours before getting spotted by a sniper and instantly killed.

    wait…. that might not work.

  4. Jochen Scheisse says:

    I wonder what the lesson is that the PTS afflicted can take away from games like this. Is it that we make kids do for fun what has mentally scarred the PTS victim? Or is it that it’s just a game?

  5. Theory says:

    I’ve never understood why people claim games don’t desensitise. Desensitise is just a word that means “become accustomed to” in a negative sense. I don’t think anyone beside Mr. Ebert and co. would argue that a game has no effect on its players.

    FSW is kinda…vaguely… no- barely traumatic. Doesn’t really make sense how this can help folk with PTSD at all!

    You clearly never played Ten Hammers. On Authentic. :-p

  6. The Shed says:

    Heheh, thas true.

    Tbh, GTA IV is probably the most brutal game out there right now. Shooting people is so damn realistic (Euphoria making them act almost like they would IRL) I avoid it if I can, which is hard considering the nature of your work. FSW is definately not the best choice to desensitize people.

  7. calabi says:

    I dont see how games supposedly desensitize people to real violence. I have seen and been the cause of hundreds of dead bodies in games, would I go “meh its nothing, I’ve seen it all before” if I looked at a real one, you wouldnt and I didnt.

    Anyway I dont believe this game or its techniques would desensitize them to violence, its aim is the trauma, their real world training, does it much better.

  8. cyrenic says:

    You guys pretty obviously didn’t RTFA :P.

    It’s a modified version of FSW, and they just use it for image generation. They add their own sounds, smells, and other VR features. The soldier doesn’t control anything, just the images and sounds are enough to bring up repressed memories. The soldier they follow in the article would go home and cry after sessions.

    If the results of the soldier in the article aren’t atypical (they successfully treated his post traumatic stress disorder), that could be a very important and even life saving technology. If they could put a system like that into widespread use they could cut suicide rates (which last I saw were quite high for Iraq vets). The article also mentions soldiers might be more likely to engage in VR treatment, because it doesn’t have the negative stigma of just going to see a shrink (even though that’s what they’re really doing :P).

  9. vash47 says:

    Like cyrenic said, you people don’t read, they clearly say in the article that they are only using the engine of the game for their own purposes.

  10. Heliocentricity says:

    i just want to say, when i said the crazy man was saying games desensitise, i did not mean that he was wrong, or crazy because he said that, it was simply crazy for his own personal reasons.

    But, i still carry that war is best represented as a random set of events, not a showreel.

    Then that they use a game is meaningless, might as well force people to sit though war movies.

    Though, i’ll admit i didn’t click the link when i saw “an extensive New Yorker article”, that shit be whack!

  11. Noc says:

    Also, it’s not SUPPOSED to be traumatic. It’s not supposed to simulate war. It’s supposed to frame the lingering images from the war in a less traumatic environment, to help scale down the responses to it.

    If subjecting them to FURTHER trauma would help things, then they’d just send them back to Iraq again and eventually everything would sort itself out.

  12. Janto says:

    Even when the guy in the seat next to me was shot, and his shirt sprouted a red bloom, it wasn’t frightening. I had never been to Iraq. I had never been to war. The scene did not conjure any memories for me, traumatic or otherwise. It was, as JoAnn Difede said of stairs on September 10th to a person who worked in the World Trade Center, neutral.

    But not for the guys who’d actually experienced combat.

  13. Jochen Scheisse says:

    My emotions on this subject are deeply conflicted. I do not want human beings to suffer. But if I am correct about what haunts them, I am happy to see that this can not simply be programmed away.

  14. Razerious says:

    That was a good read

  15. PleasingFungus says:

    Janto: …well, yes…? I thought that was his point.

  16. Wildbluesun says:

    PTSD occurs when something happens so traumatic that the brain does not correctly process it. Instead of being stored in long-term memory, it remains in short-term memory; this is what causes flashbacks, re-experiencing, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, etc.

    From what I’ve seen of treatment for PTSD (one of my best friends has it, and I’m in the same therapy group as him – clinical depression FTL), it mostly involves reliving the experience to try and fully process it. My friend is writing down what’s happened to him, as reliving rape is impractical. This sounds similar; they even use SMELLS.

    But, you know, I don’t really know that much about it. My knowledge of PTSD is very limited. But I do know that if it doesn’t work, the technique will ceased to be used. If it does, it could help thousands and thousands of people in the long-term.

    Note that I have to go somewhere later today, so I probably won’t be online to reply to this thread.