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Try a virtual cigarette if you want to stop smoking

Submitted by on Wednesday, 28 October 2009 No Comment

You’ve tried patches and gum and cold turkey and you still can’t kick the habit. Maybe that’s because you’ve never tried virtual reality.

According to Canadian researchers, tobacco addicts who crushed virtual cigarettes during at least four weekly session of playing a computer game modified for the study tended to stay in the treatment program longer and were more likely to stay away from cigarettes six months later.

We’re seriously grading on the curve here, because smokers are a tough group to crack. The six-month success rate for cigarette-crushers still was only 39 percent, but it was an even-lower 12 percent for the other group.

It’s easy to see how almost any technique – including doing nothing – would show better results than “grasping a computer-simulated ball.” Grasping a real rubber ball doesn’t do much for most people, though don’t you wish you were the person who invented the stress ball. Talk about a chunk of junk that does nothing other than eat up desk space.

And somehow, stress balls became required hand-outs at business seminars for years. The only way they ever relieved my stress was if I threw them at co-workers, and even at that they weren’t nearly as effective a calming device as a carefully placed shot with a Nerf gun.

Sadly, though, we had to disarm shortly after Columbine, when co-workers complained to bosses that the guns were creating a culture of violence. Too bad we never knew who was complaining – I would have bought a Nerf AK47 just for the thrill of unloading it across their desks. It would have relaxed me for days.

In the smoking study, researchers aren’t sure why the cigarette-crushing worked, though they think part of might have to do with helping smokers develop the confidence they needed to quit. Apparently seeing themselves succeed at crushing and making the effort to find more to obliterate can serve as a motivator in real life.

The doctors are excited about the potential the research shows and, frankly, so am I.

Can’t get your kid to eat vegetables? Give them a computer game that they can win by consuming cauliflower and hope it carries over to dinner.

Tired of HAZMAT bedrooms? Seeing the screen flash “game over” a few times after they’re sucked into a vortex of dirty socks and underwear might be just the push toward neat freak that kids need.

Weary of the nightly homework war? Create a game where players are penalized each time they put down their pencils.

On second thought, scratch that one. The last thing a procrastinator needs is more time at a computer.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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