Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Healthcare and Technology

Video games on prescription

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 15 September 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5615
  1. Stephen Armstrong, journalist, London, UK
  1. stephen.armstrong{at}

Computer games are being designed as healthcare tools because of their power to engage, motivate, and inspire. Stephen Armstrong considers the potential and the dangers of using games to inform or treat patients

Is this the future of medicine? Little Artie has been left at the doorstep of his grandma’s house—a spooky mansion filled with shadows. His grandma has been taken, and only he can save her. As he moves through corridors and darkened rooms, terrifying shapes loom above him. His only friend is Teru the Magical Hat, who shines more brightly the calmer Artie becomes. If Artie panics, however, Teru dims and the darkness grows.

This is MindLight, a haunted house computer game aimed at teaching relaxation techniques to anxious children. Currently undergoing trials with Dutch primary school children, it’s the result of a collaboration between Isabela Granic and Rutger Engels, professors at Radboud University psychopathology department, and Dutch computer games studio Gain Play. Kids wear an electroencephalogram monitoring headset and as brain activity slows, the player’s light shines brighter. Granic hopes the game will train anxious children to conquer their fears.

“We know when people are anxious that they’re very absorbed by threats and they can’t focus on their own goals,” she explains. “So you train the cognitive control system to focus on positive things—using puzzles that they have focus on—and ignore threats. They learn by practice over and over.”

MindLight is at the leading edge of the so called gamification of healthcare—Silicon Valley’s attempt to join the medical profession. The theory of gamification—using game mechanics to help people solve real world problems—is gaining credence as a motivation tool for everything from financial services to terror groups such as Hamas. The potential is obvious: in 2011, people spent roughly three billion hours a week gaming, and the number …

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