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University of Utah study says video games can be therapeutic

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"Our study points towards video games becoming a part of personalized medicine, helping and bringing smiles to individual patients, doctors, nurses and physical therapists" Dr. Grzegorz Bulaj, University of Utah

University of Utah Patient-Empowerment Game
University of Utah Patient-Empowerment Game

Video games are often criticized as part of a sedentary lifestyle that contributes to obesity, but a new study from the University of Utah highlights the growing uses of games as therapeutic tools.

Video games are often criticized as part of a sedentary lifestyle that contributes to obesity, but a new study from the University of Utah highlights the growing uses of games as therapeutic tools.

The study, which was published in the September 19th issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine, examined clinical data on existing health-promoting video games and less active titles on the Wii, as well as Sony and Microsoft consoles. According to Dr. Carol Bruggers, the lead author of the "Patient-Empowerment Interactive Technologies" article and a pediatrics professor at the University of Utah, "A growing number of published studies show promise in effecting specific health-related behavioral changes and self-management of obesity, neurological disorders, cancer or asthma."

The paper specifically looked at the Patient Empowerment Exercise Video Game (video below), which was developed last year by Roger Altizer, a professor at the school's College of Fine Arts and the director of game design and production for the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Master's degree program. The game was designed to promote resilience, activity, and a "fighting spirit" in cancer-stricken children.

The study's authors believe that both patients and care providers will benefit from the use of video games, especially if the games can be personally tailored for individual illnesses and recovery programs. Games may even work in preventing disease, according to the paper's authors, who say that games can serve as "nonpharmacological interventions [that] may enhance patients resilience toward various chronic disorders" by providing rewards that activate positive emotions in players.

"People play games because they are engaging. We are now starting to understand how games motivate us, and how to use this motivation to change health care," says Altizer.

According to the paper, an increasing variety of companies, academic researchers, and nonprofit organizations are designing interactive experiences for use in addressing cancer, stroke, autism, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, and mental health illnesses like Parkinson's disease.

"Our study points towards video games becoming a part of personalized medicine, helping and bringing smiles to individual patients, doctors, nurses and physical therapists," said another of the paper's authors, Assistant Professor of Medicinal Chemistry Grzegorz Bulaj.