Virtual Reality: Immerse yourself in health – Q&A with Howard Rose

In his TEDMED 2014 talk, game designer Howard Rose describes the extraordinary power of play in virtual worlds, and shares how virtual reality can harness the innate human power to recover from and prevent illness. We caught up with Howard to learn more about his TEDMED experience and what inspires his work.

Gaming, health, virtual reality, Howard Rose.
“The doctor-centered paradigm of healthcare underutilizes our innate human power to recover on our own, or to prevent illness in the first place.” Howard Rose, TEDMED2014. Photo: Sandy Huffaker for TEDMED.

What drives you to innovate?

For me, virtual reality (VR) is the ultimate creative medium. As a designer, I enjoy the challenge of transforming complex ideas into meaningful experiences that bring people insight and joy. Virtual worlds can range from being very realistic to a realm of total imagination. Because VR is so unconstrained, the design process invariably evokes challenging questions about the mind, body and senses that spark the creative conflict which drives innovation.

I’ve devoted my career to exploring the boundless possibilities of technology to solve real world problems, particularly problems in health. We are just beginning to discover how to apply VR to some of our toughest challenges to control pain, treat mental illness and improve rehabilitation.

Why does this talk matter now?

Virtual Reality is poised to revolutionize the way we maintain our health and deliver treatment. It will be targeted like a drug and deliver sustained benefits. But better than drugs, VR can be personalized to individuals’ needs on a moment-by-moment basis. VR will make us more resilient, able to perform at our highest capacity. This revolution will be driven by consumer demand.

Today we are at the edge of a wave of new virtual reality technology that costs a fraction of the systems I used 20 years ago. The VR revolution is amplified by advances in neuroscience and the expanding array of biosensors we wear and carry in our mobile devices. All the elements are finally here to deliver intelligent, compelling virtual experiences that know our strengths and weaknesses and respond to our needs. These technologies are going to help people stay healthier on a daily basis, and lead to new treatments for many conditions that today we suppress or control with pills – like pain, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress.

What legacy do you want to leave?

I want to give people the tools to unlock their own potential to be happier, healthier and more productive. My goal is to make the virtual reality health games industry bigger than the entertainment game industry. I’ve been working toward that goal for 18 years at Firsthand Technology, laying the groundwork  with basic research and development.

I’m now part of a new venture, DeepStream VR, to focus on virtual reality games for pain relief, rehabilitation and resilience. DeepStream VR’s mission is to reduce the need for opioids in clinical practice, and provide new alternatives for people at home to relieve pain.