Imagine a treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that, instead of medication or therapy, was a video game. It might seem far-fetched, but one neuroscientist is trying to make video game treatment a reality.
Members of the scientific community are not keen on the billion-dollar “brain game” industry. In fact, a group of scientists recently submitted a letter of complaint to the industry, citing exaggerated claims and predatory marketing as their prime grievances. One of the scientists, Richard Engle from the Georgia Institute of Technology, explains that these brain games are based on a ridiculous premise—training the brain in 10 minutes per day, for example—and that “we just don’t see any substantial benefit for these games.”
But what if video game treatments were supported by research? Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco is putting his brain training game through clinical trials. Gazzaley hopes the Food and Drug Administration will eventually approve the game as a medical device. This seal of approval would indicate that the game is an effective treatment, able to work with, or maybe even replace, conventional treatments like medication.
Gazzaley’s game builds on the idea that there are three interconnected classes of cognitive ability: working memory, attention, and goal management. He theorizes that improving one of these areas could improve all three. As such, Gazzaley developed a fully immersive game. In the game, the player leads a horse through the desert, clicking on some food items and avoiding others. The game could support the development of executive function, or, as Gazzaley explains, “If we created this—what we call a high-interference environment, with multitasking going on and lots of distraction … if we put pressure in that environment, we would see benefits in other aspects of cognitive control.”
A game that delivers on the promise of brain training could help people with a range of disorders, including ADHD, ASD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury. If approved by the FDA, a video game would have several advantages over medication. Medication, while effective, treats the symptoms of a disorder, not its causes. A video game that builds skills like executive function could cut to the heart of the matter.
There are not yet any FDA-approved video game treatments, but this novel treatment could be available in the future.
This news story was originally reported by Colorado Public Radio.