Health and Wellness

See the first-ever video game approved by the FDA as a mental health treatment

Players of Akili Interactive's "EndeavorRX", the first-ever FDA-approved prescription video game, steer a craft through obstacle courses to collect targets.
Source: Akili Interactive

Some kids could soon have a doctor's note prescribing half an hour of video games every day.

On Monday, Boston-based company Akili Interactive's EndeavorRX made history by becoming the first-ever video game to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a medical treatment.

In other words, it's the first FDA-approved prescription video game.

EndeavorRX, which is used to treat children aged 8 to 12 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can now be marketed and prescribed as "the first game-based digital therapeutic device to improve attention function in children with [ADHD]," the FDA announced on Monday. 

In the game, players steer a flying craft through obstacle courses where they have to avoid hazards, like fire pits or underwater mines, while collecting targets. Akili recommends that children who are prescribed the game play for 25-30 minutes a day, five days a week, for four weeks.

This video trailer shows what it's like to play the game:

Once a physician prescribes the game to a child with ADHD, the child should aim to complete five missions in the allotted time, Akili says in the game's promotional materials. After those five missions are complete, the game will not allow them to play any further missions until the following day.

Akili's team of neuroscientists and tech designers developed EndeavorRX to improve children's attention spans, using algorithms that can adapt the game in real-time to adjust the difficulty level depending on who is playing in order to personalize the treatment.

"The treatment programmed into the game was scientifically designed to challenge a child's attention during treatment, requiring attention and focus on multiple tasks at the same time," the company says in the game's promotional materials.

The game can be downloaded for mobile devices, but it requires a prescription from a physician in order to actually play the game, Akili says. The game can also be used alongside other ADHD treatments, including therapy, medication and educational programs, the company says.

So far, the game has only been approved for children, not adults.

"With EndeavorRx, we're using technology to help treat a condition in an entirely new way as we directly target neurological function through medicine that feels like entertainment," Eddie Martucci, Akili's CEO, said in a statement. "Families are looking for new ways to help their children with ADHD. With [the] decision by FDA, we're excited to offer families a first-of-its-kind non-drug treatment option and take an important first step toward our goal to help all people living with cognitive issues."

The FDA noted that it reviewed data from multiple clinical studies involving more than 600 children before issuing the approval. Akili's game "offers a non-drug option" for treating children with ADHD and it's also "an important example of the growing field of digital therapy and digital therapeutics," Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said of EndeavorRX in a statement.

The FDA approval is the culmination of years of research and development by Akili. In 2017, CNBC wrote about the company's mission to develop video games that could treat a range of mental disorders, from ADHD to depression and Alzheimer's disease.

At that point, Akili was already working on obtaining FDA approval for what was then called "Project: EVO," which eventually became EndeavorRX.

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