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Using Video Games, Gametherapy Is Making Healthcare More Fun and Engaging

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August 25, 2021
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From Video Games That Promote Mental Health to Cancer Patients Firing Radiation Rockets at Tumors, Gametherapy Is Truly Making a Difference

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Playing Video Games Might Be Good for You?!?

Historically, video games have been a source of concern. They are linked to sleep deprivation, insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, depression, aggression, and anxiety. In fact, a 2019 study shows that adults addicted to mobile games tend to be more depressed; they often suffer from social anxiety and loneliness.

Like anything else though, video games can be utilized in both negative and positive ways. They can be detrimental to their users. They can also be extraordinarily powerful tools. Nowadays, researchers are working to create video games that promote health by helping with various mental and physical conditions. The resulting emerging practice is known as gameplay therapy or, simply, “gametherapy.”

Gametherapy is a developmentally responsive intervention used by psychotherapists, psychologists, counselors, child therapists, medical and rehabilitation professionals, healthcare practitioners, and parents. It is designed to address real-life problems by triggering behavior or attitude changes via video games. In addition, gametherapy can create a gamified healthcare environment that interacts with patients and assists them with certain tasks.

How Gametherapy Works

Human beings are driven by rewards. Our brains are wired to celebrate even the most minor wins by releasing neurotransmitters and hormones that make us feel good. Thus, the incentive theory of motivation states that “actions are directed towards gaining rewards.” Incidentally, this is one of the reasons regular video games can be so highly addictive.

Gametherapy has been used to treat aggressiveness, agoraphobia, grief, anxiety, autism, behavior and communication disorders, clinical depression, conflict resolution, darkness phobia, dyslexia, emotional disturbance, family dissolution, addictions, etc.

Gamified healthcare applications even allow users to share their progress and results with friends and family, thus fostering fun and competition. Gametherapy is growing quickly in the world, and research predicts that its market will hit a whopping 13.5 billion dollars by 2025.

Gametherapy in Action

Motivating Wheelchair-Bound Patients to Exercise

People who suffer from spinal trauma dysfunction are at higher risk for cardiovascular diseases. That they often engage in little to no exercise exacerbates this. To proffer a solution, researchers developed GameWheel, a gamified interface that connects the wheelchair to a computer and utilizes it as a controller for specialized games.

The wheelchair is fitted with sensors that translate the physical push into the speed of the car on the screen. The game interface is designed to connect the computer and a wheelchair dynamometer; thus, GameWheel allows participants to race against one another.

This improves the heart rate, oxygen consumption, and ventilation of players when they are engaged. Many users even attest to being so into the game that they forget they’re exercising!

Helping Cancer Patients

Research shows that about 50% of cancer patients fail to take their medications regularly; they may forget or feel unmotivated to do so. The Re-Mission game series is addressing this challenge and has shown promise in assisting children and young adults suffering from various forms of cancer.

Developed by HopeLab, a non-profit foundation, the game puts the player in charge of Roxy, a nanobot who fights cancer with a chemoblaster, antibiotic rocket, radiation gun, and other weapons derived from actual medical treatments. The Re-Mission game series shows users how their medications work and, hopefully, sparks further interest.

Since its official launch in 2012, Re-Mission 2 has improved treatment adherence rates in cancer patients while increasing their confidence that the disease can be defeated not just in a game environment, but in real life as well.

Speech Therapy

Speech production can control gameplay in mobile and computer games integrated with automatic speech recognition (ASR). Smarty Ears allows users to listen to audio models of their exercises or record their speech and play it back via the Little Bee Speech app. In some cases, it will facilitate a visualization of the user’s voice that can control characters on the computer screen. The sounds produced by the user determine the movements of these characters, as seen in Laureate Learning Systems.

Researchers contend that gamified applications for speech therapy provide three essential benefits over any other form of speech therapy:

a) They allow users to enjoy smooth gameplay without depending on assessments from Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) or parents.

b) They integrate automated, real-time feedback on users’ speech production into the game with immediate consequences or rewards.

c) They reward the user dedication by adjusting the game’s difficulty and offering greater and greater rewards.

The Key 3 Takeaways

1) Video games can be a powerful tool when wielded properly. Gametherapy is already proving to be impactful, and the sky is the limit for its potential.

2) Human beings love to be rewarded, so incentivizing positive actions through video games is an effective way to promote exercise and education.

3) Gamified healthcare applications encourage healthy living. They can provide therapy, improve a patient’s mindset, and help with adherence to medication schedules.

 

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SOHAIL MERCHANT
Youngstown, Ohio

Medical Doctor (M.D.); Research Fellow at Lumen Foundation Artificial Intelligence Division

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