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A Video Game A Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Earlier this week, video games were brought up at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s 62nd annual meeting. Contrary to what most people would expect, it was not to demonize video games, but rather, to celebrate what they could do to improve the mental health of our nation’s youth. Enter Project: EVO, a video game that could very well revolutionize how ADHD is treated.

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Still from Project: EVO

Alkali Interactive Labs is pioneering the Electronic Medicine™ movement as an alternative to traditional (and often expensive) modalities, such as pharmaceuticals or therapy. Their first release, Project: EVO, specifically seeks to improve attention and working memory in the approximately 11% of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

And, according to its pilot study and nearly 10 clinical trials, it does.

In its study of children 8 to 12 years of age, playing Project: EVO for 30 minutes was shown to significantly improve attentional functioning, working memory, and inhibition (impulse control) in the ADHD group.

Project: EVO has the player attend to certain elements of the game while ignoring others  over a variety of interactive levels that target selective attention, working memory, and visual-motor tracking. Players tilt their mobile devices to navigate their colorful Alien PC across frozen terrain. Whenever the designated object, like a red fish, pops up, the user must tap on it to make it go away, while leaving the distractors, such as the blue and green fish, alone.

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A girl plays Project: EVO on an iPad

The game increases in difficulty as the player becomes better at filtering out the irrelevant information –interference processing, for those curious. It tracks the patient-turned-player’s performance as a tangible, real-time marker of improvement.

Alkali is currently pursuing FDA approval and, in conjunction with Shire Pharmaceuticals, is moving forward to a full trial. The implications of the pilot study’s findings are huge. The video game has been shown to be a safe, effective treatment for ADHD that is comparable to taking medication. It can be implemented easily in the home and has potential applications to other cognitive disorders, such as autism, depression, and traumatic brain injuries.

Video games rarely get positive press from scientific and medical studies, so it is extremely refreshing to see such a promising new partnership. The future of mental health may lie in the more accessible, affordable realm of technology (or, at the very least, supplement it) and comes with far lower risks than long-term use of pharmaceuticals.

Alkali may have stumbled upon a winning formula with Project: EVO –perhaps the world’s first prescription-strength video game.

Tell us what you think! Would you trust a video game to treat your mental health? Do you think that Project: EVO should receive FDA approval? Leave us a comment –we’d love to hear from you!

Written by Shannon Annarella

has studied screenwriting, psychology, and even Harry Potter while at Chapman University. Now in her third year, she can finally add video games to the list. In between writing articles, Shannon is spending her semester embarking on RPG quests and co-developing a Skyrim mod.

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