Video games are not often seen as beneficial, more like the opposite – gaming can be detrimental in many ways. But imagine if one could harness the power of gaming for good.
This is exactly what, Eddie Martucci, has done. He has used his PhD in drug design to create Akili, the world’s first prescription video game.
After starting Akili in 20111, he has followed a long process that is more akin to drug discovery and testing than game development, and he hopes to gain approval from the FDA by the end of 2019.
On the surface, the game looks no different, but below the surface, the game is built upon a “selective stimulus management engine” that a clinical trial has shown can help patients with ADHD. The study asked 348 children aged 8 to 12 with the condition to play the game over four weeks and what the study found was incredible. Participants showed statistically marked improvement in their attention and ability to focus, despite distractions.
The games are designed to selectively deliver stimuli to activate specific cognitive systems in the brain and improve their function. By requiring ADHD patients to multitask, they improve their attention, and ability to process and respond to competing stimuli. The game starts by assessing the patients’ abilities, adjusts to them and then gradually raises the difficulty.
Martucci has seen a huge demand from ADHD patients and their parents, as the traditional route taken by mainstream medicine is to prescribe behavioural therapy for younger children and Ritalin once they reach school age. But Ritalin is no stranger to controversy, and the use of such a drug does not work for everyone and has many undesirable side-effects, like foggy-headedness. In order to avoid turning to pharmaceutical interventions, many parents are looking for an alternative.
“There are some people that philosophically are just against using pharmaceutical interventions for their children. That’s their choice. And then there are some people that try and they’re just not comfortable with the side effects they see, ” Martucci says.
Parents often see the difference in their child after playing the game, he says, by seeming more attentive. But creating a new category of product in a highly regulated industry has huge challenges. Martucci believes the scepticism is warranted.
“In technology, especially in digital, you’ve had a lot of things that are snake-oil or pseudo-science,” he says. And with increasing concerns about technology and it’s pervasiveness destroying our concentration, a worry that many parents struggle with as their tech-savvy children desire great access to tech, a video game designed to improve cognitive abilities is a hard sell. This sell becomes almost unbelievable when aiming the product at ADHD patients.
Martucci says the guidelines for the last half-a-decade has been for doctors to tell parents to allow less gaming and screen time for children with concentration issues. As parents we are always being told that screen time is bad and we must limit it, this is especially true for kids with ADHD, as this kind of stimulation has been thought to the cause or exacerbate the symptoms. Yet, here Akili Interactive Lab is offering the very problem up as the solution.
That was why the trials were so important to get the evidence to back up the scientific claims. And the science has been proven to work. Akili has successfully proven that digital gaming products can be used to enhance ADHD patients concentration and focus in real life.