Attrition: Violent Video Games Cure Combat Stress


August 8, 2007: U.S. Army medical researchers have noted that soldiers that play violent video games, are better able to handle the stress of combat. More elaborate (virtual reality) combat simulations are now being used to treat combat veterans who are suffering from severe stress reactions from combat (PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder).

The U.S. Army has been studying combat fatigue (or PTSD) a lot more these days. Currently, about 400 soldiers a year are sent home from Iraq because of severe PTSD, and thousands have less serious bouts of PTSD, which are treated in Iraq, with the soldier soon returning to duty.

What the army is up against is something they discovered during World War II. Back then, PTSD was called combat fatigue, and it was a serious problem. In the European Theater, 25 percent of all casualties were serious PTSD cases. In the Pacific Theater, the rate varied widely, depending on the campaign. In some of the most intense fighting, like Okinawa in 1945, it accounted for over a third of all wounded.

Israel has done a lot of work in finding new ways to diagnose PTSD, and has also noted the video game effect. Researchers are using a more realistic virtual reality type system to enable patients to relive the combat situations that triggered the PTSD, and learn to cope with it.

This may all sound counterintuitive, and that's what outsiders (including some journalists) thought when they first came across combat troops playing violent video games to unwind after a day in combat. When asked, the troops generally shrugged and commented along the lines of, "it relaxes me." A military historian would point out that, in the past, troops often sought out violent, or stressful, entertainments when given some respite from combat. During the World Wars, troops on leave would, after getting cleaned up and sleeping for twelve hours,would go gamble, or engage in team sports. They were looking for some excitement. Farther back in history, a little hunting, or looting (or worse) was always popular between battles.

It's another case of something, that's been around for a long time, getting noticed, and put to use more deliberately and aggressively.


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