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Tech News: Neurogaming is changing therapy

By Opinion Time of article published Apr 16, 2021

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By Louis Fourie

NEUROGAMING is still a relatively new field although Lat Ware demonstrated the confluence of brain science and video game design with his meditative competitive game Throw Trucks With Your Mind already in 2014.

The game allowed people to perform certain actions (in this case throwing trucks) with their mind when they concentrated on a single thought to reach a state where their brain waves indicate levels of calm and focus.

Neurogaming is a form of interactive gaming that uses biometric technologies that allow the game to receive and interpret data input from the body of the player. When a person thinks about or imagines something, the brain emits certain brain waves. This is measured by direct neural interface (DNI) technology that measures and transmits the data to a computer program. This continuous stream of data feedback from the biometric sensors is then used to change and adapt the game in real-time.

Neurogaming and brain training

But it seems that neurogaming involves much more than the popular hands-free playing of mind-controlled games. The interaction of the technology with the human brain is also used to advance the cognitive processes and improve certain habits, such as learning, information retention and scholastic performance in tests.

Neuro Racer is, for instance, a video game that was designed by a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, that focuses on multitasking in a virtual environment to assist with mental cognition and repair the neural deterioration produced by the ageing process. Significant success was obtained with regard to the working memory and sustained attention of 60- to 85-year-olds.

Treatment of depression

Depression is globally a leading cause of disability. This is one of the reasons why scientists from Aalto University in Finland are developing a computer game to treat depression. The carefully devised game requires players to solve challenges in a fantasy city that have been designed to afford a therapeutic benefit, which eases symptoms of depression and improve cognitive performance.

The game has proven to be quite successful where people suffer from milder symptoms of depression, but is currently not suitable for the elderly, for people with severe psychotic depression, or as the only form of treatment. However, it is a very cost-effective treatment aid.

Digital therapeutics

Similarly, neurogaming is used to treat people with phobias or severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Utilising a variety of systematic desensitisations, people are taught to train their minds to no longer experience a fear response under specific circumstances. Further, by allowing people to see how their fears are affecting them, neurogaming teaches them how to overcome their fears.

Since an overload of stimuli is related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), researchers discovered that neurogaming exercises can help such people to slow down and focus only on certain stimuli. In fact, Lat Ware’s success with Throw Trucks With Your Mind was the realisation of an idea he got when participating as a teenager in an experimental treatment for attention deficit disorder (ADD) that comprised of the streaming of his brain waves into a computer. Through neurofeedback therapy he learnt to focus by manipulating his brain waves in order to slow them down.

In June 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first game-based digital therapeutic device, EndeavorRx, to improve attention function in children with ADHD. The prescription-only device is indicated for children of ages eight to 12, with ADHD and improves the attention function, focus, control of behaviour, level of activity, and level of impulsivity.

Neurofeedback is not totally new, and the feedback of brainwaves have been used to teach patients to increase or decrease the speed as they focus on certain stimuli. However, this type of therapy is very expensive. Neurogaming could make this kind of therapy much cheaper and more accessible to the millions of children that suffer from ADHD.

The future

Researchers of neurogaming are of the opinion that it could in future reach a maturity where it could diagnose the brain and then treat several neurological conditions such as schizophrenia, ADHD, epilepsy, autism, clinical depression, and Alzheimer’s. Perhaps in future it would be possible to merely play a game instead of visiting a psychiatrist or to use the benefits of neurogaming treatment alongside therapy and drug treatment.

Conclusion

Until recently most work focused on neurobiology or using the brain signals to control entertainment games. Since most people have hands and feet to operate things, it is beneficial that research moved on to the study of the state of the brain, brain diagnoses and the treatment of brain disorders. In the years to come the role played by neurogaming in the therapeutical relief of brain disorders would certainly become more important, especially due to the affordability of the treatment.

It is time that the neurogames begin.

Professor Louis CH Fourie is a technology strategist

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites

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