Here are a few of the innovative companies that are fusing game mechanics with principles of cognitive psychology to create a new paradigm for digital healing. EVO In September 2013, a group led by Adam Gazzaley, a cognitive neuroscience researcher at UCSF, published a landmark paper in the prestigious scientific journal Nature. A study they had conducted showed that playing a specially designed driving game called Neuroracer arrested age-related cognitive decline in senior citizens, improving memory, attention, and the ability to multitask. Boston-based game maker Akili Interactive Labs –with Gazzaley as an advisor and funding from drug maker Shire–is developing a tablet-based game based on the Neuroracer platform, called EVO. Rather than driving and noticing road signs, in EVO players explore foreign worlds, collecting stars, gems, and alien specimens. The game is currently being deployed in about a half dozen clinical trials, testing its effectiveness for improving function in kids with ADHD (in collaboration with Shire) and autism, treating depression (with the National Institutes of Health), and detecting early signs of Alzheimers disease (with Pfizer). Imagine picking up your medication and finding a software code on the package that directs you to a complementary game. On the surface, these conditions may seem to have little connection. But there is a common thread, says Eddie Martucci, Akilis vice president of research and development: All of these populations have strong deficits in executive function and the processing of cognitive interference, or noise. While Akilis prototype game is designed for universal appeal–ADHD kids love it, and compliance in the 70-plus depression group is also sky high, Martucci says–future iterations will update visuals and other game elements to appeal to specific groups of users. Akilis creative team includes veterans of Lucas Digital Arts and Electronic Arts.
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