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Therapeutic Video Games Aimed at Variety of Illnesses

Video Games are New Tools for Health Care ProvidersVideo games are often criticized for supposedly contributing to inactivity and obesity. A new study discusses a new genre of specially created video games that provide therapeutic value.

In a new publication, researchers from the University of Utah discuss how video games can be used to help patients with cancer, diabetes, asthma, depression, autism and Parkinson’s disease.

The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, illustrates how therapeutic video games can show health-related benefits.

Dr. Carol Bruggers, a physician at Primary Children’s Medical Center, led the multidisciplinary effort that included faculty from the Department of Pediatrics, the Brain Institute, College of Fine Arts, College of Pharmacy, School of Computing, the Entrepreneur Center, and students who recently graduated from the Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE) Master’s program.

In the article, the team describes therapeutic video games, including their own Patient Empowerment Exercise Video Game (PE Game), an activity-promoting game specifically designed to improve resilience, empowerment, and a “fighting spirit” for pediatric oncology patients.

The researchers also looked at other games that have been shown to help patients with several chronic diseases.

“Therapeutic video games will push video game design into exciting new directions,” said Robert Kessler, Ph.D., director of EAE.

”Meeting the needs of the competing goals of physical therapy through exercise and patient empowerment is extremely challenging. The PE Game is clearly the first of a whole line of research into therapeutic video games.”

The researchers looked at available clinical data on health-related video games, including sedentary games and activity-promoting “exergames” played with Wii, XBOX or PlayStation systems.

Bruggers said that “a growing number of published studies show promise in effecting specific health-related behavioral changes and self-management of obesity, neurological disorders, cancer or asthma.

“We envision interactive exergames designed to enhance patient empowerment, compliance and clinical outcomes for specific disease categories.”

As the digital age progresses, health care providers will benefit from innovative use of incentive-based video games in management and prevention of diseases.

Experts see the field expanding as more companies, non-profit organizations and academic centers are involved in design and publishing interactive technologies for metabolic diseases, mental health disorders, cancer, stroke or rehabilitation.

“Clinical evaluations of onset, daily and total play time, types of game stories and music, and intensity of physical activities will provide useful information for development and optimization of therapeutic exergames,” predict the authors.

The Utah researchers say that video games can act as “nonpharmacological interventions [that] may enhance patients’ resilience toward various chronic disorders via neuronal mechanisms that activate positive emotions and the reward system.”

Roger Altizer, a professor at the University of Utah’s College of Fine Arts, is excited about how his video games can be used to harness patients’ brains to promote a positive attitude and empowerment.

“People play games because they are engaging. We are now starting to understand how games motivate us, and how to use this motivation to change health care,” said Altizer.

“If games like ours can help patients to feel better and motivate them to manage their health care or physical therapy, then I believe we will soon see the medical community saying, ’game on!’”

Grzegorz Bulaj, Ph.D., an associate professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Utah, added: “Research shows that playing video games increases levels of dopamine in the brain, but whether interactive technologies can mimic actions of pharmacological drugs remains unknown.

“Nonetheless, our study points towards video games becoming a part of personalized medicine, helping and bringing smiles to individual patients, doctors, nurses and physical therapists. Our paper shows these games offer great promise, but we also looked at the challenges of delivering safe, efficacious and fun-loaded therapeutic games.”

Source: University of Utah

Therapeutic Video Games Aimed at Variety of Illnesses

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Therapeutic Video Games Aimed at Variety of Illnesses. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 21 Sep 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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