Games are an unconventional new medical resource

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During a panel at this week’s GamesBeat Summit, several experts in the field spoke about the emergence of digital entertainment as a new form of treatment. More specifically, they talked about how video games can be used for a variety of health applications, including neurological diseases and even patient care. The panelists were Eddie Martucci, CEO and co-founder of Akili Interactive, Mirelle Phillips, founder of Studio Elsewhere and Laura Tabacof, assistant professor of rehabilitation at Mount Sinai. Stanley Pierre-Louis, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, moderated the panel.

Martucci’s studio, Akili, produces EndeavorRx, an FDA-approved video game treatment for children with ADHD. As Martucci said, getting a game approved as a medical treatment wasn’t easy: “The path was to take it all the way through clinical trials, so we’ve done large clinical trials, just like you would expect from a pharmaceutical product. We took it to The FDA’s two-year review process for the first time, and EndeavorRx is still the only FDA-approved video game out there. It was a long journey, took a long time, and I think there’s a lot we can learn now going forward.”

Pierre-Louis talked about the use of gaming and VR technology for pain management, and Tabacof agreed that traditional treatments are no longer the only option. “Patients are desperate for these types of approaches. 20% of the US population lives with chronic pain and only 10% actually feel any relief with traditional methods, so it’s our role to provide better options and the technology is here for that. We ran a few clinical trials at Mount Sinai and the results have been excellent for virtual reality and chronic pain.”

Better living through video games

Phillips said open-world games give patients a glimpse of non-linear pathways and show them that a setback in care doesn’t always set them back to square one: “Everyone is on a health journey, and I think what games do , that we” re application is that they show you that there is a map. At the core of interactivity is agency. So that fundamentally changes the dynamic of health care and medicine as something that is not just this paternalistic provider-patient relationship. It’s something that basically prevents the whole system by giving agency where it’s desperately needed.”


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Tabacof noted that the brain plays a major role in chronic pain, and games provide a better solution than the still-widespread opioid medications. “One of the main issues is the top-down model where doctors just want to prescribe something for stress management or anxiety or tell patients ‘Hey, why aren’t you breathing?’ But we need to give tools to patients to learn to breathe. The technology is here to empower patients and put them first.”

Martucci added that one of the great benefits of video games is that they can offer fun. “Currently, we want patients to forget that they are using a drug and [feel] that they’re just playing a fun video game … I hope that what we learned in the process and the design allows us and hopefully other companies to have the legs to bring many of these types of products to people in the years to come.”

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Games are an unconventional new medical resource

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