Gaming for Good Health

09/01/2020
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    A child holds up the Endeavor mobile game prescribed to help ADHD. (Endeavor)
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    The game can be played on tablets and is designed to help increase focus in children. (123RF/Rob Patete)
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    A snapshot of the game (Endeavor)
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    Steering the craft through obstacles will help kids focus even after they’re done playing. (Endeavor)
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WORLDteen | Ages 11-14 | $35.88 per year

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“It’s time to play your medicine.” That’s the message Akili Interactive Labs has for children who struggle with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The company’s website says, “We believe effective medicine for serious illnesses can also be fun and engaging.” Apparently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agrees. The federal agency approved Akili’s EndeavorRx video game as digital therapy. It’s offered for children ages 8-12 with certain symptoms of ADHD. EndeavorRx is available only with a doctor’s prescription.

A prescription video game? You bet! So how does it work?

According to the EndeavorRx product information, the game uses algorithms to adapt in real time for its users. An algorithm is a step-by-step sequence of computer instructions. The algorithms in EndeavorRx adjust difficulty level to each player. This personalizes the treatment.

The game targets and activates neural systems in the player’s brain. Players guide characters through a racecourse-like path on a hoverboard. They steer through obstacles, avoiding hazards like flaming fire pits and exploding mines, while collecting targets. Specific missions and motor challenges stimulate the brain as users focus on multiple tasks at once. Children are asked to complete five missions in 25 to 30 minutes per day, five days each week for four weeks.

Akili’s website lists evidence that the prescription video game alleviates some symptoms of ADHD. More than 600 children helped the company develop the game and show that it works. After only four weeks, one third of the trial participants no longer had measurable attention deficit on at least one measure of objective attention. Half of parents of children in the clinical trials said they saw a meaningful change in their child’s impairment after just one month of using the game. After two months of use, 68% of parents reported a positive change in symptoms.

Many medicines come with side effects. EndeavorRx could have a few negative effects too. Promotional materials from Akili state that 9.3% of participants in its clinical trials experienced non-serious effects. Those include frustration, headaches, and dizziness.

Video games tend to have a bad reputation. Some people blame them for causing symptoms like hyperactivity and inattention in kids. Now the FDA says a video game can be a tool for resolving symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention in kids. EndeavorRx appears to be “redeeming” video games for something good.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. –– Psalm 139:14