Online Extra: Playing Your Way to Health

From battling a fear of spiders to flying phobia, here are some games that promise therapeutic benefits along with fun

A slew of companies and researchers in academia and the government are working on creating games that help people relax, overcome phobias, and improve their self-esteem. Here's a sampling of their efforts:

Overcoming Arachnophobia

Name: Virtual Environment for Phobia of Spiders

Cost: Free to owners of Max Payne video game

Creator: Cyberpsychology Lab at the University of Quebec in Outaouais

How it works: A patient wearing 3-D goggles uses virtual reality to get used to spiders' presence. That leads to a real world test: A therapist asks the patient to use a pen to touch a real tarantula, sitting in a jar.

Web site: http://www.uqo.ca/cyberpsy/index-en.html

Withering Heights

Name: Height Phobia

Cost: Free to owners of Max Payne video game

Creator: Cyberpsychology Lab at the University of Quebec in Outaouais

How it works: A patient suffering from acrophobia wears 3-D goggles and a head motion tracker and uses a wireless mouse to take a glass elevator up to a floor of his choosing in a 15-story building. There, he walks along a two-foot-wide ledge circling the building on the outside.

Web site: http://www.uqo.ca/cyberpsy/index-en.html

Lifting Self Esteem

Name: Self-Esteem Games

Cost: Free

Creator: McGill University in Montreal

How it works: A player clicks on smiley faces zooming on clouds through the screen or hiding in a matrix of frowning faces. Research shows that playing one of the games for 10 minutes daily boosts self esteem.

Web site: http://www.selfesteemgames.mcgill.ca

Flight Without Fear

Name: Virtual Airplane

Cost: $100 to $200 a therapy session

Creator: Virtually Better

How it works: A patient suffering from aviophobia would sit, sometimes in a real airplane chair, wearing 3-D goggles and a head motion tracker. A therapist emulates a takeoff, landing, or thunderstorm to prepare the patient for real plane flights.

Web site: http://www.virtuallybetter.com

A Muse for Meditation

Name: The Journey to Wild Divine

Cost: $159.95

Creator: The Wild Divine Project

How it works: While traveling through lush mountains and temples, players perform breathing exercises and other tasks to relax and revitalize themselves. Sensor rings attached to fingers monitor heart rate and other vitals.

Web site: http://www.wilddivine.com

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