When I was growing up, I was always told that video games were detrimental to your health: addictive, "bad for your eyes", and a general waste of time. While some of those concerns may be true when taken to extremes, games are now also being recognised for their positive properties - and one game has been approved for prescription as a medicine in the US.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for approving medications in the US, has authorised doctors to prescribe a game called EndeavorRX to kids between eight and 12 with inattentive or combined-type ADHD (via The Verge). Made by Akili Interactive, the company says the mobile game had a noticeable effect on improving attention span, with one of the five studies finding a third of children "no longer had a measurable attention deficit on at least one measure of objective attention" after four weeks of treatment. About half of parents reported a "clinically meaningful change in their child's day-to-day impairments" after one month, a number that increased to 68 per cent after a second month of treatment.
So, what is EndeavorRX actually about? It's an endless-runner for iPhone and iPad built on the Akili Selective Stimulus Management engine, which is designed to target specific neural systems in the brain that play a key role in attention function, while using "adaptive algorithms to personalise the treatment experience for each individual patient" (with each level optimised for the player).
While the game certainly sounds promising, it did produce some all-too familiar side-effects in some patients: including headaches, frustration, dizziness, emotional reaction, nausea or aggression. And although the study cited by Akili results seem positive, as noted by The Verge, doctors on the study were previously employed by Akili, and the study received funding from the company. The study also concludes that the game could be a useful addition to the number of intervention options currently available for ADHD, so we shouldn't yet think of it as a full replacement for other prescriptions.
Still, it's a historic moment for video games as medicine: as the first FDA-approved video game treatment, it can now be legally marketed and prescribed in the US. That's when the game actually starts rolling out, anyway. Akili says the game will be "available with a prescription to families soon".