Meme software creates virtual universe to cure obsessive-compulsive disorder

San Francisco 15 June 1998 How would it feel to finally get rid of those nasty demons haunting your thoughts and your deeds? In the magic world of Virtual Reality, you get a chance to face the enemy inside and defeat him once and for all. At Clark Atlanta University, special virtual worlds are generated by means of the Meme software package, developed by Immersive Systems, to tackle the specific obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms of each individual patient. In the Atlanta Virtual Reality Technology Laboratory, Dr. Max North integrates the real time three-dimensional Meme universe in his pioneering Virtual Reality Therapy.

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How would it feel to finally get rid of those nasty demons haunting your thoughts and your deeds? In the magic world of Virtual Reality, you get a chance to face the enemy inside and defeat him once and for all. At Clark Atlanta University, special virtual worlds are generated by means of the Meme software package, developed by Immersive Systems, to tackle the specific obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms of each individual patient. In the Atlanta Virtual Reality Technology Laboratory, Dr. Max North integrates the real time three-dimensional Meme universe in his pioneering Virtual Reality Therapy.

In the early nineties, Dr. Max North discovered how well virtual reality technology can contribute to the treatment of psychological disorders and phobias. His extensive research studies led up to the creation of the Virtual Reality Therapy. This innovative paradigm constituted a spectacular breakthrough in psychotherapy. People suffering from fear of flying, agora- and acrophobia, eating disorders and autism could far better be helped to overcome their fear or illness. At present, Dr. North focuses on patients who have to deal with repetitive unwanted thoughts, defined as obsessions, or redundant and involuntary behaviour, known as compulsions. The Meme tool constitutes a real asset in the psychological work with his patients.

The Immersive Systems Company has designed Meme, which stands for Multitasking Extensible Messaging Environment, as a platform-independent software package for the development of virtual world applications. Several users, linked to a computer network, are able to simultaneously inhabit a virtual universe, filled with objects that display an incredibly rich behaviour. The Meme flexibility and speed allows to create customized worlds in no time to fit the patient's specific situation. Gradually, he learns how to properly react to the fear-provoking "what if" questions, so typical in OCD, while he experiences stimuli in well selected virtual reality scenes, that are associated with his own OCD case.

In fact, Meme has to be considered as a three-in-one programme, consisting of an operating system, an interactive development environment, and a programming language. It is able to manage at once the organization of three-dimensional objects in a virtual space, as well as the rendering of this world to the output device. The Meme universe is composed of both simple and compound objects, which are arranged in a hierarchy or object tree. The user can freely link or unlink objects from the tree to reposition them again elsewhere. The system is built out of various modules, incorporating codes and rooms, which can be dynamically loaded or unloaded.

Dr. North can have the appropriate modules communicate with each other by sending and receiving the right messages. The deck module contains the patient's eyepoint, which enables him to navigate his own virtual world. To secure the system, the deck module only allows certain classes of messages to pass through to the other modules, running on the local host. Real time adaptation of the virtual universe to the patient's needs is possible at all times. Since the often time-consuming OCD behaviour refrains people from normal integration into the every functioning within the society, the Meme programme in combination with the Virtual Reality Therapy means a significant help to place their fear-inspiring obsessions into a realistic and less threatening perspective.


Leslie Versweyveld

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