Beeps, Blips, and a New Class of Medicine: Video Games

Bret S. Stetka, MD


April 22, 2016

In This Article

Incorporating Video Games Into Care

Medscape: How do you envision video game therapy being used clinically?

Dr Gazzaley: For now, I think the jury's still out. Both my lab and Akili, as well as my colleagues at Hopkins, see these video games essentially becoming a new category of digital medicine, just like with any new prescribable medicine.

I picture video games as sometimes being used alone and sometimes in combination with other lifestyle approaches and current therapeutics, like pharmaceuticals. I like to imagine a day when in doing so we can drop the doses on drug prescriptions to much lower doses with much better side-effect profiles. We may even be able to target the selectivity of certain drugs by using a video game to activate certain brain networks.

Medscape: To your knowledge, are clinicians using video game therapies in the field off-label already?

Dr Gazzaley: No, not that I'm aware. I know that there's a lot of enthusiasm among many physicians now. But I think they're waiting for the empirical evidence.

Medscape: What else are you and your team working on now?

Dr Gazzaley: We now have seven new games that we're developing. We're an incubator for these while, as I mentioned, Akili is really fine-tuning the products.

My laboratory starts from scratch: We build the games, work with professionals in the video game industry to create new closed-loop algorithms, and do the initial testing in healthy patients.

The new games we're developing focus on different aspects of cognitive control. We recently developed a game called "Meditrain," where we integrate principles of concentration and meditation with our closed-loop video game mechanics of adaptivity and feedback. This is a National Institutes of Health-funded study to help individuals better self-regulate their internal distraction.

We also have a game called "Body Brain Trainer," or "BBT." This is a game where we use motion capture in gameplay to integrate physical fitness challenges with cognitive challenges. This game engages your entire body in responding to the different cognitive demands of the game. And so in BBT, in addition to having the adaptive algorithms adjust the cognitive challenge appropriate to your ability, it also adjusts the physical demands based on real-time recordings of your heart rate. Our hypothesis is that if you are challenged cognitively in an embodied way, you will have better cognitive outcomes, as opposed to playing the game with just your eyeballs and your fingers. We believe there will be a synergistic effect between physical engagement and cognitive challenge.


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