Story as a Protective Device: Skip Rizzo on VR Storytelling


Story as a Protective Device: Skip Rizzo on VR Storytelling
0:00 -10:00
Apr 23, 2019 - min read min read

Albert “Skip” Rizzo, Research Director at University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies for Medical Virtual Reality is a legend. Having done research into virtual reality’s impact on psychological, cognitive and motor functioning for decades, Skip shares in this episode how storytelling can go beyond pure entertainment and have life-altering consequences. Justine Harcourt de Tourville, VRTL’s Editor-in-Chief, dives right into this fascinating conversation with the “Ayatollah of VR” taped live in Skip Rizzo’s LA office.


Psychologist Skip Rizzo conducts research on the design, development and evaluation of virtual reality (VR) systems targeting the areas of clinical assessment, treatment rehabilitation and resilience. This work spans the domains of psychological, cognitive and motor functioning in both healthy and clinical populations. Rizzo, whose work using virtual reality-based exposure therapy to treat PTSD received the American Psychological Association’s 2010 Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Treatment of Trauma, is the associate director for medical virtual reality at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. He also holds research professor appointments with the USC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and at the USC Davis School of Gerontology. 


Rizzo is working with a team that is creating artificially intelligent virtual patients that clinicians can use to practice skills required for challenging clinical interviews and diagnostic assessments. His cognitive work has addressed the use of VR applications to test and train attention, memory, visuospatial abilities and executive function. In the motor domain, he has developed VR game systems to address physical rehabilitation post stroke and traumatic brain injury and for prosthetic use training. He is currently designing VR scenarios to address social and vocational interaction in persons with autistic spectrum disorder. 

The army had foresight in 1999 to see that narrative was an important component for boosting potentially the training effects of what goes on in a simulation.

Rizzo is currently examining the use of VR applications for training emotional coping skills with the aim of preparing service members for the stresses of combat. He is senior editor of the MIT Press journal, Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. He also sits on a number of editorial boards for journals in the areas of cognition and computer technology (Cognitive Technology; Journal of Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds; Media Psychology) and is the creator of the Virtual Reality Mental Health Email Listserve (VRPSYCH).