Video Games and Cerebral Palsy Therapy

Video Game Therapy

Video games. Just mentioning these two words is sometimes all it takes to pique the interest of kids, teenagers, and adults alike. With Xbox, Playstation, Wii, and the vast panoply of gaming options, never has there been a better time for those who enjoy a good video game.

Therapy. Just mentioning that word can often distress or at least disinterest those who undergo it. And living with Cerebral Palsy means that therapy is likely a part of life. This is why enhancement therapies like video game therapy are so important—they offer exciting ways to do two things at once: have fun, and benefit from therapeutic exercise.

Ideally, the “therapy” part would be embedded in the “fun” part in such a way that it can hardly be detected, if at all, by the patient. What should be detected are the therapy’s results. This ideal perfectly describes video game therapy. By joining together these two seemingly incompatible ideas of “video games” and “therapy,” patients can now forehand, strategize, quest, or level-up their way to real therapeutic results in their motor skill abilities and other positive effects. While video game therapy is not supposed to supplant conventional therapy, it can enhance progress and offer measurable improvement.

Using circuitry for gaming entertainment harks all the way back to as early as the 1940’s with the advent of what was comically called a “cathode ray tube amusement device” that allowed players to fire a gun at a target. But video games really became a bona fide craze in the 1970’s and 1980’s with classic games like Pong and Donkey Kong, and consoles like the Atari 2600 and the Nintendo Entertainment System.

How times have changed. Fast forward to the present-day, the Xbox Kinect and Wii systems are particularly noteworthy due to their interactive nature in gameplay. This interaction—which encourages repetitive movement—is the key behind video game based therapy for increased motor function. While typical handheld controller games can increase dexterity in the hands, more interactive options like the Xbox Kinect and Wii systems require a more involved participation in game-playing. For example, tennis video games on these systems are played by mimicking an actual tennis swing, which recruits upper-body muscles to swing their way to virtual victory.  

Given the ubiquity of video games in modern day culture, their utility as sources of entertainment is well-known to enthusiasts and dabblers everywhere. What is not so well-known is this: research shows that interactive video games can be more than just sources of entertainment—in fact, they can double as therapy enhancement for those living with Cerebral Palsy. Interactive video games may be played on virtual turf, but their effects are real. Improving upper-body motor functions is one such effect, and it’s easy to see why considering these movements are made voluntarily to sync with the demands of the video game.

The willingness of patients to perform repetitive movements to increase their motor function is crucial, and video games offer great incentives to get moving, especially compared to other therapy options without this kind of appeal. Some movements can be boring and frustrating to repeat during therapy, but once placed within the activity of a video game, these movements repurpose as a means to having fun or leveling-up, and the player or patient focuses on this goal rather than the difficulties encountered in executing them.     

Since conventional mobility therapies can often be frustrating and tedious, the incentive to complete them diminishes accordingly. This is where video game enhancement therapy offers so much. Instead of frustrating, tedious motions, the right video games can offer engaging contexts for immediate game-derived rewards earned by moving in ways required to play them—ways that are therapeutic yet dressed in the excitement characteristic of video games.

So, besides the positive effects of just being entertained or enjoying a virtual escape from real-world limitations, playing video games can help upper-body mobility in those living with Cerebral Palsy.

Game on.