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Video Games: Improving Cognitive Abilities, Treating Disorders

Soon, we will be able to walk into our local pharmacy and pick up an interesting prescription: a video game. Long thought of as simply entertainment, video games are proving to be feasible therapy for an array of cognitive disorders. As it stands, they are not currently available as treatment. However, strides are being made by neuroscientists and game developers, who have successfully crafted games that alleviate the ails of disorders from ADHD to autism. Video gaming should no longer be thought of as a pastime of the bored teenager. It is now to be considered a therapeutic undertaking.

Project Evo epitomizes the work neuroscientists and game designers are doing to aid in treating cognitive ailments. Players control a skidding car on ice, simultaneously tapping color-specified fish that appear at the top of the screen. Doing so employs multitasking, a capability in the same neural networks as attention span and working memory. These areas are bridged together while playing, training the brain to increase its focus and memorization. Driving a virtual car while tapping fish sounds nonsensical, but players in nine completed clinical trials displayed improvements in ADHD, depression, and autism.

Current ADHD medicine comes with negative side effects — sleep loss, low appetite, and stomach pain, to name a few. The creators of Project Evo expect a rapid decline in the use of these uncomfortable ADHD treatments once therapeutic games inevitably become available over the counter. Playing a video game with no side effects, aside from potential sore thumbs, is a much more humane treatment approach than swallowing pills that cause various bodily nags. Skeptics are not being outrageous when questioning if video games should replace certain prescription medications. Yet, the interactive, entertaining, and side-effect free aspects, backed by neuroscience, provide a strong case for the classification of video games as therapy.

One major roadblock stands in the way of this necessary classification: the FDA. Games typically travel from conception to retail shelves in six months. This ordinarily simple and quick process extends to an arduous ordeal that can take up to three or four years to complete, and cost several million dollars, when the FDA must approve a medical device. The small companies who are behind these health-centric games do not currently have the money or time that the FDA stamp of approval requires. The science, logic, and clinical trials have all been established. Doctors can prescribe the games and insurance companies can begin covering the cost for patients once the approval is given. Even drug companies are waking up to the possibilities. Pfizer, working alongside the Project Evo team, is attempting to improve the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s using the game.

Neuroscientists, health care professionals, and pharmaceutical companies have all realized the potential that video games hold for treating cognitive disorders. The FDA is the black sheep, the sole reason that these medically beneficial games are not currently prescriptions. Once the FDA is on board, video games will be legally legitimized as what they clearly are: therapy.

Works Cited

Dembosky, April. “‘Play This Video Game And Call Me In The Morning’NPR. NPR, 17 Aug. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

Therapeutic Video Game, “Project: EVO” Makes Headlines.” Autism Speaks. N.p., 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

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