Take Two Video Games and Call Me in the Morning?

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In addition to more traditional forms of medicine, doctors can now prescribe video games for certain ailments, including ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). [1] [2]

EndeavorRx, cleared by the FDA in June 2020, was created to treat ADHD in children. The video game works by helping kids learn to stay on task by strengthening the brain activity that aids in focus and multitasking. [1] [2]

The game, which is generally prescribed for about 25 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for at least an initial 4 weeks, or as recommended by a patient’s healthcare provider, helps kids not only concentrate better, but also to switch between tasks more efficiently. The game is also cognitively challenging to improve memory and learning skills. [1]

Adam Gazzaley, co-founder of Akili Interactive, the company that developed EndeavorRx, explained: “The core principle is that our brain has this phenomenon known as neuroplasticity, and that it can change itself and modify its function, its structure, even its chemistry in response to experiences. And it’s in many ways it’s the most ancient medicine for the mind. Things like meditation and mindfulness have been used for thousands of years for release of mental suffering. And what we have done in both my research at UCSF [University of California San Francisco] and now with Akili Interactive is advance that concept of what I think of as experiential medicine — experience as medicine to help improve brain function. And having the opportunity to use technology to create very personalized experiences where the challenges and the rewards are targeted to that individual. And then being able to do very careful, randomized, controlled testing similar to what’s done with pharmaceuticals and drugs. And so you have all these advantages of modern technology, and then you couple it with this ancient practice of experience as medicine, and you wind up with a new type of treatment with a video game as medicine.” [3]

One study found EndeavorRx improved measures of inattention in kids for about nine weeks. In another study, approximately 68% of parents reported improvements in their kid’s ADHD symptoms. [1]

Christopher D. Dietrich, Medical Director at Orion Behavioral Health Network in Alaska, stated: “Video games and digital therapeutics provide a unique opportunity in a world with limited providers of behavioral health services. Having additional modes of therapy with proven benefits expands treatment options for many.” [1]

Dietrich was careful to stipulate that it is “generally a good concept for electronic use to have limits. From a larger view, all children could benefit from having set parameters on their video game usage in general to help facilitate a physical and social activity that provides variances for their interactions and attention needs.” [1]

Video game technology is also being studied for use in treatment for other ailments with “associated chronic and acute cognitive impairments, including autism spectrum disorder (‘ASD’), multiple sclerosis, major depressive disorder, COVID-19 brain fog, cancer-related cognitive impairment and postoperative cognitive dysfunction.” EndeavorRx has been tested for use in treating cognitive dysfunction in systemic lupus erythematosus patients with good results. [4] [5]

A United Kingdom app, Thymia, is being used for mental health issues, depression in particular. Lee Chambers, psychologist, noted, “Engaging with a game has the ability to remove aspects of feeling like we are being tested and measured. These types of mental health games have an ability to widen access, and track variations in the baseline data that they collect over time. Given this, it has the potential to be an early indicator and show patterns in a way we don’t currently have access to.” [2]

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think about using video games to treat cognitive and mental health concerns? Explain your answer(s).

2. Do you think video games cause health concerns such as aggression, depression, or obesity? Explain your answer(s).

3. What other sorts of technology could be used in new ways to treat medical ailments? Explain your answer(s).


1. Jocelyn Solis-Moreira, “Meet the First FDA-Approved Video Game to Treat Kids’ ADHD,” mother.ly, Feb. 16, 2022

2. Kitti Palmai, “The Video Game Prescribed by Doctors to Treat ADHD,” bbc.com, July 11,2022

3. Sanjay Gupta, “Chasing Life: The Video Game Treatment,” cnn.com, July 19, 2022

4. BioSpace, “PureTech Founded Entity Akili Announces Phase 3 Study of Digital Treatment in Children with ADHD Begun by Shionogi in Japan,” biospace.com, Aug. 1, 2022

5. Andrea Park, “Akili’s Digital Therapeutic Tech Improves Cognitive Function in Lupus Patients: Study,” fiercebiotech.com, July 15, 2022