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How video games are easing our phobias, one spider at a time

I personally promise you that every spider in this video has been censored

From the Abby’s acrophobia in The Last of Us Part II, to the claustrophobic feeling of cramming yourself into a locker during Alien: Isolation, games are great at replicating the physical sensation of fear. But phobias can be a huge barrier of entry for trying a new game, especially for people afraid of common video game adversaries like spiders. For phobic gamers, this fear can keep them from playing a game they might otherwise enjoy.

The good news is, this ability to terrify is actually being used to heal people. Neuropsychologists like Dr. Skip Rizzo have been studying for decades how games can be used to treat mental illness.

“I always make sure that I include the term exposure therapy because it’s not VR therapy,” he says. “VR is a tool. The therapy is exposure therapy.”

Dr. Rizzo directs the medical virtual reality lab at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. He’s part of a team of neuropsychologists and researchers using VR to treat veterans suffering from PTSD. Built in Unity, the software BRAVEMIND helps transport patients to traumatic situations and allows them to experience them in a safe space, under the care of medical professionals.

Watch the video above to learn more about how VR is being used to help treat people suffering from a variety of illnesses.

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