The Project

Games for Health is a two-year research and development project, which is designed to investigate if and how digital gaming can contribute to creating new and improved therapies for veterans diagnosed with PTSD.[1]

An increasing number of soldiers who have returned from the conflicts of the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a number of other mental disturbances as a consequence of their wartime experiences. If untreated, PTSD can develop into a chronic state, which, given enough time can invalidate the soldier both personally and socially.

Society as a whole, the individual soldier, as well as his family can benefit greatly from an improved effort for early diagnosis and improved treatment of PTSD. By utilizing the mechanisms of digital games, the traditional treatment of PTSD can be supplied with new opportunities. A visual universe for instance, can be created in a game environment. This universe can simulate the situations in both battlemind and homemind, which are difficult for the soldier to talk about and deal with. Games as treatment The simulations can be based on the traumatic situations in the warzone, which helped develop the PTSD condition. This can include: roadside bombs, patrolling under fire, sniper attacks etc.

The game can act as a communications device, which can add new visual dimensions to the existing traditional psychological treatment. The traumatic experiences can be relived in a “safe” environment and can form the basis for new angles in the conversation between the soldier and the therapist. Simulation of everyday situations which can prompt stress attacks such as: being stuck in traffic, being in a crowded room, walking past a dark alleyway, over a bridge or around a corner. The soldier can train the situations, either by playing a game as part of the traditional treatment or by completing small assignments on his mobile phone device in real life, everyday situations. For instance the soldier could report to the game via his phone, if he stood in line at the supermarket for more than five minutes, he could log this achievement and earn points in the game.

This is a qualitative expansion of the way to solve the tasks that the soldier who is undergoing traditional treatment is given between the conversations with the therapist. A central element of Games for Health is that the soldier’s reaction to the game is measured and analyzed and has a direct impact on the way the game develops. If for instance, the game-scenario is “patrolling under fire” and the monitoring via a heart rate monitor shows that the soldier is becoming stressed, the game can change the imagery to more relaxing and non-stressful situations. The better the soldier handles the patrolling scene, the further he will move through the level, until finally the level is completed. In addition to the visual mechanisms and possibilities for interaction, the more traditional game mechanisms such as competition, rewards and sense of achievement is also used as motivating factors.

Other Uses The short-term goal of the project is to contribute to a better and faster diagnosis and treatment of newly-returned veterans with PTSD-problems. In the long term, also soldiers who are suffering from more severe PTSD- symptoms will be involved, if possible. The project has potential in relation to a long line of other groups of persons, who as private citizens or as part of their work are in danger of developing PTSD (victims of torture, rape and violence or people who are confronted with accidents and disasters, for instance; firefighters, police officers and hospital personnel etc.), and can therefore be groundbreaking within the field. Facts Games for Health is a two-year project (1/1 2011 – 31/12 2012), it is in part financed by the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation.

DI ITEK is heading the project, and the other partners number some of Denmark’s leading companies in the field of Serious Gaming, healthcare and internationally recognized research in the fields of gaming technologies, artificial intelligence, learning and psychiatry. The partners other than DI ITEK include: Knowledge Lab, the IT University of Copenhagen, Danish Research Unit of Psychological Trauma, the Mental Health Services of Copenhagen, the central Association of Permanent Defense Personnel, Apex Virtual Entertainment, Crisware, Serious Games Interactive, Photobia, Siemens Healthcare and Falck Healthcare.

For further information please contact project manager Birthe Ritter, DI ITEK by telephone on 0045 29494403 or email bir@di.dk or visit the homepage for the project www.gamesforhealth.dk. [1] The use of gaming as part of the treatment of PTSD has been examined on a limited scale elsewhere in the world. Clinical studies from Oxford University show that the use of games (Tetris) immediately following a traumatizing experience can reduce the negative consequences of the experience. The studies illustrate that playing a certain game successfully, can affect the way emotional memories are stored in the brain. In the United States Armed Forces, gaming has been used in a new psychological trauma treatment form called virtual reality exposure. For instance in the game “virtual Iraq” the patients have been exposed to pictures and sound similar to the experiences which caused the trauma in the first place. Both in the USA and in the UK, where tests using the game has also been conducted, the research has shown that the tests have a positive effect on the patient’s PTSD symptoms.

At the Globalization council at Havreholm Castle in January 2005, Professor at the Karolinska Institute Hans Wigzell lectured on how experiments with digital gaming as a means of treatment for persons suffering from mental disorders, are being conducted. NASA has been making experiments with integrating biofeedback with digital games. By letting the body and brainwaves of the user interact with the game, it has been possible to train the ability to concentrate in both children and pilots. Especially for the children the digital games training contained a motivating factor, when compared to other, more traditional training methods. These international studies, and their results, support the premise of this project; that the digital game’s universe and instruments can be used to influence and optimize a treatment- and learning process in a positive way.