Game on: Serious Games can help with ADHD

Dr. Kim Bul, Research Fellow, Centre for Intelligent Healthcare

This article has been re-published from the original article on ADHD Netwerk.

Gaming is extremely popular and almost 60% of the European adolescents indicate that they played a game during weekdays in the past month. The level of entertainment is high and although commercial games can be educational, behavioural scientists, governmental institutions, healthcare organizations and even industry partners are making more and more investments to develop educational computer games, so-called Serious Games, aiming to work on mental health in a fun and engaging way.

What are Serious Games?

Serious games are computer games where “learning” is prioritized, so it has a serious purpose but is accompanied by the power of motivation and the fun factor of playing a game. Other names for such computer games are edutainment games, applied games and games for health, but the common denominator is that they want to teach the user something through entertainment aspects within a game, such as knowledge, a skill or even behavioural change.

What makes gaming so attractive?

The commercial game industry in particular aims to increase replayability and long-term engagement with a game. It uses the most up-to-date technology, attractive visual effects, game levels of varying difficulty as well as reward mechanisms to keep users engaged for a longer period. To a certain extent, these aspects are also used in Serious Games, but there is often less budget available and the ideas surrounding learning and behavioural change remain paramount here.

Gaming and ADHD

Since children and young people with ADHD are often less motivated and seem less sensitive to reinforcement (due to a presumed dopamine deficiency) compared to children without ADHD, games offer the ultimate opportunity to find a good balance between motivation and learning. Games are very stimulating and provide immediate short-term feedback in children with ADHD and additionally show more sustained attention while playing a game. As a result, Serious Games offer opportunities to motivate children with ADHD to work on knowledge and skills. Recent reviews are available that list and discuss examples of Serious Games for children with ADHD to supplement diagnosis or current treatment.

So….Let’s play!

It is not that games will be equally effective for all children with ADHD, every child is different in their needs and interests. Also, clear boundaries must be set with regard to game duration and game frequency because games can also be addictive. However, games potentially complement existing treatment and can improve executive skills and even other day-to-day skills. Since the use of Serious Games in clinical settings is no longer innovative and development, research and testing is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, gamification is more often used these days. Game elements are added to existing applications and in this way intrinsic motivation to learn is increased.