Game Politics (gamepolitics) wrote,
Game Politics
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HEALTHCARE FILE: Games Helping with Brain Damage, Diabetes

Now who'd go around calling gamers brain-dead? Well, actually, I can think of one individual...

But in at least one real-world case, video games, as part of a larger program of treatment, have actually helped bring a severely damaged brain back to life, reports CNet.

The patient, 9-year-old Ethan Myers of Colorado, was involved in a terrible 2002 car accident. Doctors said he would never walk, talk or feed himself again after he awoke from a month-long coma. However, after starting game-flavoured treatment using a system snappily-named CyberLearning S.M.A.R.T. BrainGames (pictured at left), his parents report that "in the last year, we've seen the Ethan we knew before the accident."

For his part, Ethan said, "I'm doing the exact same things as [classmates]. I'm getting buddies and stuff. I couldn't remember where I put stuff and now I can. I remember school stuff and people's names."

The $584 BrainGames system utilizes "neurofeedback" technology, a form of conditioning that rewards users for producing specific brain waves, like those seen during relaxation or concentration. Based on a system designed by NASA to keep pilots calm and awake, the game modifies the controls of the game so that when the brain reacts in a particular way it becomes easier to control the action - thus rewarding the development of otherwise strained or damaged grey matter.

This isn't the only time, of course, that games have been shown to have positive effects on health - not only the cranial effects of Nintendo's Brain Training which GamePolitics reported on recently, but also in regard to diabetes management.

Nintendo, in association with Californian developer Realtime Associates and a Washington doctor named Harold Goldberg, have developed a system to help diabetics use PC's, smart phones, or, oddly enough, GameCubes to test their blood sugar levels and send them off to their doctor.

Not that Neurofeedback is without its detractors, such as New York's Dr. Andrew Adesman - "We have some very effective treatments for kids with ADHD [other than neurofeedback], I'd be concerned about parents pursuing expensive and not very established treatments in lieu of more proven therapies."

Some critics may also point out that BrainGames - unlike standard therapy, education, and drugs like Ritalin - is not covered by health insurance.

Only time will tell us who's right.

-reporting from the U.K., Mark Kelly, GP International Correspondent

Tags: cyberlearning s.m.a.r.t. braingames, diabetes, ethan myers, gamecube, mark kelly, neurofeedback, nintendo
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  • 23 comments
Neurofeedback? Isn't that the brain stimulus equivalent of Biofeedback?
I'd like to see Jack's face when he reads this! :D
are you kidding, he'll just say that the game industy is using this as mind control.
Sadly, i can imagine him saying that
Actually, he'd probabaly claim this is proof of his "biofeedback" theory.

Not realising that GTA can't monitor your breathing/heartrate in order to effectively adjust gameplay to alter your behavior...

He seems to think that the vibrate function is "feedback". So I get "rewarded" whenever I get blown up? How is that training me to kill?
I can see various problems with such a technology, though. At this point, we are arguing that video games cannot "train" you to commit any act, but using a neurofeedback system we can safely say that is it now possible for games to train people.

Shoot the enemy "terrorist", receive a soothing wave and upgrades on the UI. Perform correctly an infiltration technique in an enemy bunker, receive a soothing wave and upgrades to the UI. if you make the game realistic enough, this could be a pretty serious concern.

Deleted comment

The thing is it can be used to generate other stimulis at this point. Adapt a version of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snake for this system, and you can generate quite a different reaction then "learning by playing".
...there was a quote like that in the story I sent to Dennis, but it got cut out, it was disguised as a jab at JT, so I suppose it's for the best. It's still in the original CNet story, though.

/b
I don't think the problem/debate centers around the stimulus generation being able to train you to do something or perform some act. Everything we do and experience in life provides a positive/negative stimulus that reinforces certain actions. The real problem is that certain people claim that this is outside the person's control. I would think that someone playing a game provided by say, the military (and they are a soldier), would come away with a very different experience than the same game being played by someone who is approaching it from an entertainment perspective. I would think that a violent video game with neurofeedback that is being approached by someone for entertainment purposes would probably not train somebody to be violent, but if somebody was willingly subjecting themselves to it to become more violent (don't ask me why) might do just that.

Just a thought.
Bear in mind, the equipment needed to monitor brain activity is not cheap, and certainly not cheap enough to be distributed with game systems. This kind of tech is limited to large installations.. like hospitals.

Also, in your earlier post in this thread, "receive a soothing wave" is entirely incorrect. The game can't INDUCE anything in the brain. It might be able to improve the UI, but that would be a hell of a lot of programming. The way the system works is to make it easier to perform tasks in-game if you keep yourself in a certain state of mind - focussed, or calm, or whatever the target brain activity is (for individuals with some sort of disorder, calmness and focus would doubtless be candidate states of mind.) It's like the "biofeedback" game that was developed a number of years ago where you controlled the speed of your racer with your heartrate. The fact that you get external results from self-induced biometric changes makes it easier to do, since you can see the results directly. It does not, however, change your heartrate itself, nor can this system send out a "soothing wave".

I suppose the worst they could do would be to give the player an advantage if they were in an aggressive state of mind.... but again, the system just doesn't scale for home use.
yeah but unless someone is going to intentionally develop a biofeedback system for Xbox which alters the game depending how you respond it isn't the same

remember this system give positive reinforcement, which has shown to have a great benefit in these types of situations in this system the brain is being motivated to think in certain ways, and the system can tell when it is. your xbox just plays out a scenario and doesn't care what your brain is doing with it
As far as I could tell from that story, it doesn't work like that. The article mentions racing games, but it doesn't make any mention of little Ethan suddenly being able to drive.

This does appear to be dealing with the brain's basic functions rather than any specific brain operation- and, again, as far as I can see, the technology is one-way, with the device reading brain waves, not sending anything back.

/b
Yes, because medicating a kid into oblivion is far better than researching new methods of treatment. Sure.
ffs, forgot the quote:

Not that Neurofeedback is without its detractors, such as New York's Dr. Andrew Adesman - "We have some very effective treatments for kids with ADHD [other than neurofeedback], I'd be concerned about parents pursuing expensive and not very established treatments in lieu of more proven therapies."
You beat me to it.
of course it is, if you hold the patent on ritalin

Deleted comment

Yeah, you pretty much nailed what I tried to say on the head.
What would be the point, though? I would think that being calm while playing an action game (FPS or the like) would be a detractor - people are there either for the focus or for the excitement... being forced to calm down to recieve the best power-ups doesn't make any sense. Happiness, that might work, but even so, I think it's a flimsy argument.
I've done little research on neurofeedback therapeutic systems, I'll admit, but if this thing costs ONLY $584, then it is a hell of a lot cheaper than the other stimuli systems I'm aware of.
especially compared to the costs of prescription meds for years on end (even if health care covers the meds, SOMEONE has to pay for it)
I'm confused by the detractors

I imagine most of the detractors boil down to:

a) they are drug company spokesmen, so of course they call non-drug therapies "flawed"
b) they think drugs are tried, tested, and true, and don't bother to consider alternate therapies
c) it involves gaming, and they already think that TV/gaming rots your brain, so this couldn't possibly work
Considering recent events in the UK involving drug testing, I think the detractors still have a lot of convincing to do......
Hey nice article!

I hope it can tell the others that video games can help!

Jack will come and see this, and no, GP is not going to be crushed by your hands, GP will be a hard stone that you cant even break and only break your hands!

May God have mercy and cleanse your son from his sins! Because, you will be responsible if your son does anything wrong, because parents need to be responsible.