Playing video games engages people’s minds, but can they actually improve them? Many games and companies claim that buying their product will do everything from increase your recall to stave off Alzheimer’s. Many of them are unsupported by actual testing, and are just wild claims by the creators to increase sales. However, a few companies are going against the grain. One such company is Akili and their game EVO.
Akili is a company made up of “a mix of biomedical scientists and experts in medical device commercialization.” The company itself started in the wake of the successful testing of a prototype game called neuroracer. Neuroracer was tested with a group of 46 participants from ages 60 to 85 who were split into three groups. One group got to play the game as it was intended, another group had the game dumb down on the multitasking, and the third group did not play at all. The results were staggering. The older adults who played the game as it was intended saw vast improvement at the end of the study. Their E.E.G. readings were similar to that of 20 year olds. Even six months after they had stopped playing the game, they still performed better on diagnostic tests than the control group. Neuroracer was a simple game that involved keeping a car along a path while pressing buttons on a controller when different signs showed up along the road that told you to, and it was created back in 2009. Now Akili believes that they have developed a much better game, EVO.
EVO is not just going to be released out to the general public. Akili is very set on doing what no video game has dared. They are seeking FDA approval to be a medical device. They are pushing for a video game to be an actual prescribable treatment for disease. Their studies (many of which have been run for at least a year long each) focus on treating different neurological problems such as ADHD, Alzheimer’s, autism, and depression. Currently they are about halfway through clinical trials for the first step of FDA approval for being a medical device that can help treat ADHD. However, they are also starting a 100 person clinical trial to see if EVO can be used to find markers for healthy elderly people who develop Alzheimer’s.
How can EVO claim to be so good at working with a human brain? After all, don’t most games challenge the brain to think outside the box and multitask? What really sets EVO apart is that it adapts its difficulty level in real time. The game captures performance data 30 times a second. This rapidly changing difficulty keeps the game always challenging, but is never supposed to become too easy or too difficult. The company also wants the game to be playable for all ages from young children to the elderly. It is a long process, and the results of their first FDA trial will be completed in 2015, and then they will have to pass a larger and more rigorous trial involving testing against placebos.
If EVO gets FDA approval it will be the first of its kind, and most likely have many following behind it. The game is currently made to work on the iPad and iPhone, and Akili hopes that they will not only get FDA approval, but also gain support from medical doctors so they will actually prescribe it to patients.