Video Games For Health

As computers and video games have become ubiquitous it sometimes seems that the developed world is divided into two groups, namely gamers and non-gamers. Belonging to the second category leaves me outside a cyber world full of avatars blasting strange creatures into oblivion.

Apparently not all video games should be classified as similar. Cole et al in this week’s PLoS one are looking at the effects of a “serious video game” which is interactive and called Re-Mission (1).

Re-Mission is available free to young people with cancer and the game story line is that your avatar is a pretty nanobot that roams through your body blasting unwelcome cancer cells. It is available in single or multi-player formats. Your avatar can have antibiotic rockets, radiation guns or a chemoblaster.

It has reportedly had a positive effect on the health of teens with chronic illness and Cole et al wanted to see what part of the brain gets lit up as you hit a cancer cell with a chemoblaster. To do this, they took two groups of undergraduates; one-group chemoblasted lymphoma cells in the lymph nodes while smaller groups just watched and listened to the mayhem.

Both groups had their heads stuffed into the big magnet for fMRI scans while all this excitement was going on. Afterwards, they were quizzed on their attitudes to chemotherapy.

Results? Well everybody’s attitude towards chemotherapy improved after exposure to Re-Mission, whether in active play mode or in voyeur mode. The fMRI scans showed that the dopamine pathways were active and the undergrads reward pathways were working nicely, but more so in those with control of the chemoblasters.

So it appears that serious gaming is therapeutic and something that we should all be taking up. At least those who haven’t to date should perhaps dabble their toe in the water.


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