A prescription for video games

Companies are working on a new treatment for mental illnesses: video games.

Several companies desire Food and Drug Administration approval to market their video games as medical therapies for treating specific mental illnesses, including depression, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer's disease.

The games are set in far flung landscapes like icy rivers and tropical islands, and players have to dodge icebergs, hunt for treasures and race around obstacles. It's the same immersive and interactive experience as any other video game. The difference, developers say, is these games will provide genuine relief for people when prescribed as standalone treatments, alongside traditional drugs or as an alternative to conventional medicine. Physicians could monitor their patients' video game performance remotely in real time and adjust treatment as needed.

Many games stemmed from academic labs where researchers have spent years studying the therapeutic potential of video games. Researchers theorize the brain's plasticity, its ability to be modified in response to interactions with the environment, could mean a video game helps people with cognitive functions even after they stop playing.

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Doctors and scientists are skeptical of clinical findings so far, and no imminent decisions are expected from the FDA. But there's growing interest from pharmaceutical companies, investors, venture capitalists and foundations for what could be a potentially lucrative market. Boston startup Pear Therapeutics' business model is based on a physician's prescription for traditional pills and a code to access a video game, which could be argued justify extending medication patent protections.

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Topics: Alzheimer's/Dementia , Clinical