Crispy Gamer

On the Bright Side: Better Living Through Videogames

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Mr. Bright Side, here, back with more. This time, I focus on the increasing role of videogames as rehabilitation products, surgical guiding lights, brain developers, an aid to cancer researchers and tools for paramedics training -- no, I'm not making this stuff up.

It's easy to understand how conventional gamers and industry pundits may have grown tired of the positive media coverage enjoyed by Nintendo Wii since first launching more than a year and a half ago. Indeed, Nintendo took press clippings to a whole new level at E3 2007, when it incessantly showed a stream of favorable "we told you so" videos, but if you don't get warm and fuzzy watching the "Wii Being Used as Therapy" story that was televised on "The Today Show" in March, you have a heart of coal.

The report profiles "a growing number of patients who are now being rehabilitated both physically and mentally with a videogame [system]," in this case, the movement-inducing Wii (recently endorsed by the renowned Mayo Clinic). The four individuals profiled, not to mention the many who had completed the rehab, beamed with hope, enthusiasm and confidence after experiencing that of which the little white console was capable: an effective alternative to mundane weightlifting and calisthenics as therapy. It was also seen as an anti-depressant and good company.

Other researchers see potential, as well. Dr. Kanav Kohel and Dr. Marshall Smith of the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, are developing a specialized Wii program to help resident physicians practice the precise movements required in surgical procedures. Surgeons "are better after playing Nintendo Wii," the research found, when using both custom software (think Trauma Center on steroids) and retail games that involve finely controlled hand movements.

Wii Fit is obviously more than just an upcoming game.

Nintendo isn't the only interactive brand on the medical move, however. Kelly Colwell, an occupational therapist at Select Specialty Hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana found success using Guitar Hero to rebuild injured elbows and rotator cuffs, and to increase patients' flexibility. "We'd been doing a lot with range of motion, but [the pilot patient] was still lacking in pronation and supination in his forearm," Colwell told Shacknews in January. "Guitar Hero really helped out a lot with that, especially the supination because he had to hold that pose. I hadn't [used videogames as therapy] before, but I'll do it again."

Even idleness has its place gaming medicine -- system idleness that is. In February, Sony announced that more than 1 million PlayStation 3 owners actively donate processing power and bandwidth when not playing games to help cure many well-known diseases through network computing. The research project, managed by Stanford University's chemistry department, is dubbed Folding@Home and uses the combined computing power of PlayStation 3s to crunch numbers and understand protein folding and misfolding that lead to disease. Wouldn't it be something if millions of "play stations" eventually were to yield a scientific breakthrough in cancer research?

The popular "brain training" series for Nintendo DS, which growing adults use to sharpen thinking and the elderly use to combat dementia, is on par with sales of Halo as the 32nd most popular franchise of all time. Though the creation by Dr. Kawashima (who respectfully turned down $11 million in royalties, by the way) is more leisure than education and has never been scientifically proven to increase IQ, millions of gamers recite multiplication tables in record time now. That's got to count for something.

I'll end with the story of Paxton Galvanek, a longtime America's Army player and resident of Silver Spring, Maryland. Last November, Mr. Galvanek helped rescue two victims from a disastrous car wreck using medical training learned from the Official U.S. Army Game. "I have received no prior training and can honestly say that because of the training and presentations within America's Army, I was able to help and possibly save the injured men," said the civilian responder after the incident. It's a good public relations story for the Army's recruiting efforts, yes, but it's also a resourceful and effective means of emergency training, nonetheless.

I realize videogames are not the savior of modern medicine -- we're talking about entertainment by design, after all -- but it's encouraging to see the medium transcend boundaries by way of imaginative and experimental individuals who understand that inspiration can come from anywhere, even from a videogame (gasp!).

See also: On the Bright Side: An Introduction