Many people associate video games with entertainment. As with any form of entertainment, video games also draw critics. What these critics, who regard video games as a waste of time, often do not see or understand are the benefits that gaming can provide. This article is going to address the benefits of gaming when it comes to medicine. We know games are used in education. I have seen my own son become a better reader thanks to games. We do not as often talk about gaming in medicine. As a nurse I have seen the benefits of gaming. There have also been times when I wished we would have had systems so patients could play games.
Let’s start with the most obvious. Games are a great way to keep a patient occupied while they are bored in a hospital bed. Being in the hospital can be terrible. There is nothing to do and it is even worse if you have no one to visit you. By having games available to patients, it can decrease their boredom. They can also still connect with their online friends and play online multiplayer games. So even though they are not home, they can still enjoy gaming with their friends, even though they may have more interruptions for things like vital signs and medication. This is also wonderful for pediatric patients. Children can get very restless if you put them in a tiny room and tell them they cannot see their friends or go run around the halls. By giving them games to play, you occupy their mind and body so they are not so restless and as irritated about their situation.
Gaming is not only used to keep people from being bored in a medical setting, it is also being used as therapy for various illnesses. For instance, EndeavorRX is an FDA-cleared video game to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in kids 8-12. It is not meant to be a substitute for more traditional ADHD treatments but is meant to be an adjunct.
I decided to download the game and give it a try. I could only play the 5-minute demo without a prescription for the game. I thought it was fun. It teaches the kids how to do one task at a time and then multitask. I thought it was engaging. Basically, you are at the Institute of Universal Exploration and are being asked to explore and make contact with specimens throughout the universe. The demo takes place on the planet Figidus. You first learn how to target. You only want to target the red angry bird-looking things. You then learn how to steer, and the goal is to go over the power zones in the water. Finally, you put them together and have to target the red birds while steering over the power zones.
There is also a companion app for parents so they can see the progress their child is making. According to a study by Kollins, et al (2021), parents noticed an improvement in their child’s ability to pay attention after the prescribed period of gameplay.
Video game therapy has also been used in patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI). It is thought that video games can improve both mobility and attention. A study done by Straudi et al. (2017) identified that TBI patients benefitted from a 6-week video game therapy program in balance, mobility, and selective attention.
There are still people who want to argue that gaming creates delinquents, and that it is bad for your mental health. Recent studies are showing that gaming may actually be good for your mental health, although more research needs to be done in this area. Play therapy is not a new concept, and gaming is a form of play therapy that can help a patient develop cognitive, emotional, and social skills (Al Husni Al Keilani & Delvenne, 2020). On multiple occasions, I have taken care of children being admitted with psychiatric diagnoses and saw their demeanor change when I started discussing video games with them. I believe that being in a virtual world gives people with mental illness control that they do not have in the real world. While often they feel very out of control, being in a game lets them feel in control, which is a satisfying feeling. All of this said, it is important to remember that everything needs to be done in moderation, and most good things can become bad with overindulgence.
Video games are also being used now to help people get in shape. There are some great games that make exercise really fun. As such, it is a great way for someone to start exercising who maybe isn’t sure about lifting weights or where to even start with cardio. I enjoy several of the fitness games available on multiple platforms. I do not use this as my primary way of exercising, but it is a great adjunct. It is also a fun way to keep the family engaged and burning calories together.
Medical education has also been gamified. The virtual world gives you a place to practice and make mistakes without actually doing harm to real patients. They are also beneficial during surgical residencies and continuing education. The virtual world allows you to practice surgical maneuvers before practicing on a real patient.
Level Ex, a company created by physicians for physicians, creates games and issues continuing medical education credits. These games are targeted to anesthesiologists, gastroenterologists, pulmonologists, and cardiologists with titles such as Top Derm, Cardio Ex, Airway Ex, Pulm Ex, Gastro Ex, and COVID-19. This is a fun and interactive way for providers to earn continuing education units.
I tried out Cardio Ex. This game is based on case studies. There are interventional cases, treatment cases, and diagnosis cases. In the interventional case study, you are given a case, and you practice different procedures. I practiced placing stents. For the treatment case, you are given a case, and your treatment choices increase or decrease the patient’s health and satisfaction. I worked up a patient who was having shortness of breath and palpitations, among other issues. As you perform interventions such as medications given, it tells you how the patient will respond. Based on your choices you can cure the patient, and it is possible to kill the patient. Much better to do that in a simulation than in real life.
Finally, for the diagnosis case, you are given a scenario in which you have to diagnose the patient. You can ask questions and perform tests. Based on the answers and results, diagnoses are eliminated. The more you eliminate before diagnosing the patient, the higher the score. With the first one I did, I diagnosed correctly with Atrial fibrillation. The next patient I diagnosed with Brugada syndrome. You earn achievements as you play. You can also select cases worth continuing medical education credits. This is a great practice environment and test of your skills. Based on how a provider does in this environment, they know where their weaknesses are and what they need to study up on or practice.
As you can see, games do a lot more than just provide fun and entertainment. Gaming is used therapeutically for many patients. For others, it can be used as a way of helping them socialize. And others may be getting fit through gaming. Not only are patients playing games, so are clinicians. Of course, providers can use gaming as a way to decompress, but also as an educational tool in order to sharpen their diagnostic skills and improve hand-eye coordination for complex procedures. In summary, those critics who think gaming is a waste of time just might be taken care of by a clinical team who practiced their procedure the day before using the very tool that those critics are against.
Al Husni Al Keilani, M., & Delvenne, V. (2020). Use of video games in a child and adolescent psychiatric unit. Pediatria Danubina 32 suppl 1. 167-171.
Kollins, S.H., Childrenss, A., Heusser, A.C., & Lutz, J. (2021). Effectiveness of a digital therapeutic as adjunct to treatment with medication in pediatric ADHD. npj Digital Medicine 4, (58).
Straudi, S., Severini, G., Sabbagh Cherabati, A., Pavarelli, C., Gamberini, G., Scotti, A., & Basaglia, N. (2017). The affects of video game therapy on balance and attention in chronic ambulatory tramatic brain injury: An exploratory study. BMC Neurology, 17(86).