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Brothers use virtual reality to help veterans
Augusta Chronicle - 3/13/2018
March 13--When Amy Josey walked into Level Up Gaming Center in Augusta, she wasn't sure what she was going to find, but she knew what she was looking for.
Josey, an occupational therapist with the Augusta VA hospital, was interested in how gaming technology could be used to assist veterans in their rehabilitation. Level Up owner Robert Steele connected her to the brothers who would take her idea and turn it into virtual reality.
Arthur, Alexander and Geoffrey Fogle are the brains behind Team 21 Studio, an Aiken-based indie game development studio. After speaking with Josey, they decided they would work to figure out a way to create virtual reality simulations for veterans, or anyone with physical limitations.
"I feel like this is the rehab tool of the future," Josey said. "It lends itself to that. It's there, but it's underdeveloped and it's not been developed for this use."
Though Josey approached the brothers with the intention of using technology to help veterans with physical rehabilitation, she can also see how virtual reality would help those with other difficulties.
"My feeling is ... the motor, the sensory noise and the feedback from interacting, the visual bombardment, will distract from pain will promote way more active movement and participation than you're aware of and carry it through to the next level," Josey said. "I feel it could expand to assist with socialization of the isolated, depression, aversion therapy, perhaps even to events associated with PTSD, agoraphobia, or heights, for example, in the psychological setting."
The brothers have been interested in technology from a young age, inspired by their father, who was a lead designer for NASA when they were growing up. For the past year, they've been working with virtual reality. The self-taught trio released their first game, Fat Foods, last year. That game is sold for $5 on Steam digital distribution site but is listed as free every few months.
Team 21 Studio isn't aiming to make a large profit off the software it's developing for the veterans. The developers share Josey's hope that together they can create a program or software that is affordable and stimulating, and provides an escape for those who might otherwise be distracted by the pain of physical therapy.
"For people to just be able to experience a life that maybe they used to have, or regain some kind of sense of humanity or self-identity would be amazing," Alexander Fogle said. "If we can make experiences special for them, we'll do that."
Alan Washington, a volunteer for Paralyzed Veterans of America, is also working with Josey to see how the software could potentially be integrated into rehabilitation methods. Team 21 Studio created simulations for Washington, who is a veteran and paraplegic, to try out during a demo March 8.
"I loved it, it's a good workout," said Washington, whose virtual reality simulation included a rock-climbing wall and zip line.
Josey brought in other veterans with spinal cord injuries to Level Up to see how they responded to virtual reality. Tommy Rubio, a quadriplegic from a car accident last year, was able to swim through a coral reef.
"It was a wonderful experience," Rubio said. "I'm hoping that I'll be able to do things more with the virtual reality. It's a good getaway for your mind to think about something else and using your brain for something else."
Eventually, Team 21 Studio hopes to own a studio where people will be able to play the trio's simulations for free and escape from reality, in addition to continuing to assist veterans and others with injuries.
"We want to be able to give somebody something that they lost, as much as we can," Arthur Fogle said.
The brothers are raising money on GoFundMe to afford equipment that will allow them to continue to build the software. More information on Team 21 Studio and their past projects can be found at team21studio.com, and donations can be made at gofundme.com/team214vets.
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