Kids at Seattle's Harborview Burn Center have found help in a strange new place: SnowWorld, a virtual reality where they glide through icy 3-D canyons, shooting snowballs at snowmen, robots, and penguins. SnowWorld is a computer game, but patients' cranial scans show that it reduces pain by 50% or more during the excruciating daily process of cleaning their wounds. That number may be hard to believe, but as the game's creator, Hunter Hoffman, a cognitive psychologist and director of the University of Washington's Virtual Reality Research Center, puts it: "Brains don't lie."
SnowWorld has been chosen for the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum's Triennial Show in December. ("How could 'design' be more powerful, transformative, or significant than Hoffman's work?" asks curator Barbara Bloemink.) Hoffman's biggest hurdle now is cost--a good virtual-reality helmet can run to $32,000. But long term, the program could not only reduce patients' suffering but the overall price of their care as well: If burn victims can endure longer daily treatments, they could heal faster and go home sooner.