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Video Games as Therapy

Last time we checked in on the expanding and dynamic intersection of video games and healthcare, we explored whether video games can help treat COVID-19 brain fog, an excellent example of the ways in which the proliferation of medical applications for video games is being driven by the emergent needs of our world. Today we’re going to dial in on video games as therapy interventions – check out these therapeutic applications for video games and let us know what we missed on Facebook or Twitter!

Geek Therapeutics

Dr. Anthony Bean, a psychologist in Forth Worth, Texas, has developed an approach to therapy that he calls Geek Therapy, administered through his organization Geek Therapeutics. Drawing on characters and narratives from franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Universe, Bean helps students reimagine themselves through the lens of pop culture. For instance, for students with disabilities, Bean helps them learn about “James Earl Jones, the actor who overcame a stutter and and provides the voice of Darth Vader; about Lou Ferrigno, the deaf bodybuilder who played the Hulk on television; about Professor X, leader of the “X-Men,” who uses a wheelchair.” Bean has also developed a card game that helps students discuss their emotions and feelings using familiar tropes from the world of comics and video games. One card prompts students to consider what kind of armor they would want for themselves if they were a superhero – with some students listing anti-bullying armor, and others listing anti-sadness and anti-anger armor, the answers are as various as they are revelatory. 

Games for Clinical Treatment

Much like how digital games can be harnessed by educators to aid and enhance their instruction, serious games can be utilized by professionals in the mental health field as a method of engaging with their clients during treatment.

A 2012 study published in the British Medical Journal attempted to measure the effectiveness of SPARX, a game-based treatment designed specifically as a self help intervention for youth living with depression. Across 187 treatment-seeking adolescents – half given the game-based treatment, the others traditional face-to-face counseling – researchers found that participants who received the game-based SPARX treatment experienced a greater reduction in their measured levels of depression when compared to their peers. These early results shine a promising light on the potential of game-based interventions as a complement to traditional treatment methods – however there remains much research to be done prior to widespread adoption of such tools.

iThrive Games is entirely focused on the intersection of games and mental health, striving to foster mental wellness and social and emotional growth through meaningful gameplay experiences. Of course, the use of games in treatment must be thoughtfully and properly integrated – some patients may find the use of video games as treatment as “trivializing or inappropriate” and prefer more traditional treatment methods, and professionals who do choose to embrace games with their patients must ensure that their selected games are high-quality and relevant to their client’s needs.

Eric J. Topol, MD, Medscape Editor-in-Chief, sits down with neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD for an in-depth discussion on the therapeutic potential of digital games:

Making Virtual Reality the Standard of Care for Chronic Pain

This last development comes in the form of a funding round – namely, $29 million in Series A funding for AppliedVR. AppliedVR provides virtual reality-based treatments aimed at comprehensively treating chronic pain. Combining well-established cognitive behavioral therapies with mindfulness exercises, the company’s EaseVRx solution recently became the first virtual reality (VR) prescription therapeutic to receive Breakthrough Device Designation from the FDA for treatment-resistant fibromyalgia and chronic intractable lower back pain. The company also just released results from its pivotal eight-week randomized clinical trial, finding that the EaseVRx device produced “clinically meaningful” improvement in multiple pain outcomes, and had high participant satisfaction and engagement. With this diversified set of applications and outcomes, AppliedVR is a great example of the many possibilities for therapeutic VR.

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