As we all know, video games have traditionally been for confusing news organizations, committing virtual war-crimes, and turning the otherwise sweet, virtuous children of the western world into gun-toting real-life Duke Nukems with no regard for human life or decency. Also, turn that damn techno music down. Anyway, much to my surprise, it turns out the past time my parents were constantly telling me would rot away my brain may actually help the brains of those suffering from ADHD.
A group of doctors in Finland are experimenting with electronic games to help those suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder address and manage its symptoms.
The idea isn’t totally out of the blue. The University of Helsinki is well known for its neuroscience, with researchers already investigating how brain activity changes when people do different things. Scientists there have already tinkered around with game play, checking out local Helsinki production Angry Birds to test why the game was so addictive, and it's all part of a push by Finnish developers to build games that do good.
But using games to change people’s brains for health reasons is an ambitious and relatively new concept. Still, Helsinki has the scientists and the gaming companies—Angry Birds developer Rovio is just one—to give the idea a proper look. Now, researchers also have cash: Tapio's company Mental Capital Care received 790,000 euro in funding from Finnish investment board Tekes last year to test out a game designed to cure the symptoms of ADHD.
Using some fairly simple games, such as what appears to be an Asteroids
clone called AstroComet
, along with some head wear technology designed to study neuroplasticity, a regimen of these games is being used to alter brain function in a way that alleviates the symptoms of ADHD. It's a tantalizing thought, given the now common perception of too many children being on too many drugs these days. If doctors could replace a regimen of mind-altering drugs, which children often hate taking, with a regimen of mind-training targeted video games that are fun enough that kids want to play them, it might end up being as or more effective with a higher adoption rate by the patient.
And, lest you think this is some kind of attempt to cram cookie-cutter games into the treatment plans for everyone, the games are highly tuned for each individual. They have their brainwaves studied over the course of their natural routine via a headset called the Emotiv, an EEG cap that functions like a mobile MRI, and then the researchers study the EEG output to tailor the game to each patient.
“We start the gaming treatment by analyzing the person’s brains, and defining the areas of the brain which are too active or not active enough,” said Tapio. “And then we create a gaming plan that will stimulate those areas of the brain.” The game is tuned to make the tasks accomplishable by thinking in a certain way—a desirable way, from the doctor's point of view. But it’s more than just concentrating.
“It’s not only the activity in brain areas we are trying to affect but also the kind of activity: the different wavelengths, the different types of electromagnetic action—it can’t be too high or too low. We set a goal which will be optimal for the patient,” [research director Ville] Tapio said. “And after we have created an optimal profile for the patient, he will start the gaming and get his brain active to the optimal levels.”
So sorry, kids, but we're still a ways away from being able to tell parents, girlfriends, or boyfriends that Grand Theft Auto
is actually helping our brains to function better, but it's important to remember that for all the evils some claim digital games are responsible for, they aren't the evil panacea older generations occasionally claim. They can do good as well.