Video Game Therapy

It’s crazy to think that almost 91% of kids in the U.S. play video games, but today video games are an important part of our culture and lifestyle. Shared gaming experiences like Pokémon Go bring together people from all around the globe. Game developers work hard to make their games appealing and accessible to as broad an audience as possible, but what about kids with a medical condition that prevents them from playing most games? And what if accessible games could include a learning and therapeutic component?

 

Researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide are working on video games specifically for children with cerebral palsy and limited hand function. Cerebral palsy affects more than 17 million people around the world. There is no cure for CP and it is the most common childhood disability. Targeted interventions for children often involve therapeutic exercises aimed at improving or maintaining function with the goal of helping children achieve independence in daily activities. However, just as with adult physical therapy, compliance can be a struggle as the exercises are seen as work and not play. David Hobbs and his team set out to change that by making an accessible video game system that may also help children with CP improve sensory function, bilateral hand functionality and coordination.

 

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Known as “serious games,” their work is part of a growing sector of games developed with a purpose “other than pure entertainment.” Hobbs’ team designed their own “orb” controller especially for those with limited hand function. When they sent the prototypes to the homes of families with children with CP the anecdotal feedback was very positive. Parents noticed that the new system allowed the kids to play games with their siblings when they hadn’t been able to join in before. The game systems became a talking point with family members and friends and seemed to improve hand function among some of the children.

 

The combination of making video games accessible while making a game out of important physical therapies stands to make a huge difference in the physical and social lives of children with CP.

 

Check out the other ways that doctors are innovating in the study of neurological disorders.

 

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Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.