A video game developer aims to improve mental health through play

The COVID-19 pandemic took a heavy toll on the mental health of many people, as they were isolated from social contacts and support structures, illness and economic anxieties increased, and access to mental health services has been reduced. The latter ‒ the lack of reasonable or equitable access to mental health services ‒ has driven the growth of newcomer, DeepWell Digital Therapeutics. The video game developer and publisher focuses on gaming that incorporates mental health management strategies.

As rates of anxiety and depression, already thought to be on the rise in the United States, continued to rise, DeepWell DTx team members sought to address this trend, according to the co-founder , Ryan Douglas. “Many DeepWell participants have been aware of the growing mental health emergency and the very specific and alarming spikes in depression and anxiety rates over the past 5 years. Covid has added another major layer of complexity to this problem and played a huge role in the company’s decision to focus its initial efforts on mental health.

Mike Wilson is the additional co-founder of the company.

Now you play with power

Video games were the perfect entry point to help patients with mental health issues because they are based on a playful mindset. “Video games are highly accessible, and the neurologically stimulating powers of play provide increased engagement and capacity for administering therapies,” Douglas said. “Video games are a great tool for therapeutic delivery that enables access to care by increasing patient engagement and adherence issues, accelerating treatment outcomes and reducing barriers to healthcare delivery. (costs and availability of service providers). For the price of a video game and their free time, people can begin to address and treat their mental health issues.

While details about the game’s development remain under wraps, Douglas shared that the company was sticking closely to the game’s goal throughout its creation. “We follow a very specific development strategy of ‘Good Games First.’ Our scientists, physicians, regulatory, quality and operations managers, and systems work in the service of game developers, helping to adapt the therapeutic elements of the game to create a scenario where the thematic elements are supported by game mechanics. which strongly overlap with the processing mechanism. We try to make it very difficult for the patient to say, “Ah, that’s the part of the game that deals with my condition.”

In fact, the object of the game is not to tell the player that he is receiving therapy. They are just meant to enjoy the game.”The therapeutic potential of games is related to play and engagement; without pleasure, there is no therapy. Our approach is to rely heavily on the power of play and the naturally engaging aspects of immersive games. The more the patient feels like they are playing a regular game and distracted by the game, the higher the therapeutic potential. »

New launches for mental health

Inaugural launches in 2023 will focus on anxiety, stress and depression. While the company’s current focus is on developing mental health-based games, the team sees the technology applying to many health issues, Douglas said. “DeepWell is currently focused on mental health treatments, but we see the potential for a wide range of complementary therapies ranging from physical interventions that push us to do something good for ourselves, to mind/body work that can help us think differently and respond more effectively to therapies. and pharmaceuticals,” he said.

Accessibility is also key for DeepWell DTx, which will make its games available on popular platforms. The games also do not require prescriptions. “DeepWell is focused on delivering DTx therapies on existing platforms without additional hardware requirements”, said Douglas. Our first game will be a VR experience, playable on the Oculus Quest. Other developments focus on mobile systems, PCs and game consoles.

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