This company wants to reconcile medicine and video games

DeepWell, a company co-founded by the big boss of Devolver, will produce therapeutic video games in an attempt to democratize their use in medicine.

By definition, a video game must be fun for its audience, whether they are hardcore gamers looking for a challenge or casual gamers who simply want to be entertained with joy and good humor. But video games are also much more than that; it is also an outlet, a form of artistic expression… and they can even include a therapeutic dimension that some intend to exploit.

The practice of video games has long been considered by some as a uninteresting and even fundamentally mind-numbing pastimebut fortunately, the view of science and the general public has greatly evolved.

A new studio, whose full name is DeepWell Digital Therapeutics, was born from the collaboration between two experts. On the one hand, we have Ryan Douglas, an American specialist in medical devices; the other, Mike Wilsona big name in video games known for having co-founded the publisher Developer Digital.

The latter enjoys a special place in this ecosystem, since it specializes above all in the publication of independent games. He gave us countless nuggets like the now legendary Hotline Miami, but also the sublime Greythe inimitable Talos Principleor even various and varied jewels such as BroForce, Death’s Door, Enter the Gungeon, Shadow Warrior…

This particularly heterogeneous catalog shows how much Wilson loves to think outside the box. But he had never strayed so far from it as with DeepWell, whose concept is as interesting as it is intriguing; he wants to extract video games from the shackles of raw entertainment, and allow them to exploit the hidden therapeutic potential of this medium.

A therapeutic potential already documented

In effect, several very serious studies are already interested in the subject. It is now proven that video games can be used not only for the diagnosis, but also for the treatment of certain conditions. We can for example cite this study which illustrates its interest in the management of attention deficit disorders. Their interest has also been explored in the context of depression.

In recent years, many researchers and institutions have therefore take the problem from the other end. Instead of accidentally producing games of therapeutic valuethey began to design real digital therapies. The Verge cites for example EndeavorRx, a video game approved by the American administration and offered on prescription to children suffering from ADHD. Recently, we have also seen other forms of therapy based on virtual reality appear.

From fun medicine to true therapeutic play

But today, the vast majority of products of this type are above all medical objects; they are developed from their medical interest, then coated with a playful topping that is often very superficial afterwards. A technique already well known in the pharmaceutical industry; a garish dye, a sweet aroma, and an atrocious-tasting medicine will already have less difficulty passing.

DeepWell wishes to go beyond this approach by starting from an observation that can be summed up in one sentence: “theentertainment is the most therapeutic”, said Douglas himself. DeepWell’s goal is therefore to start with produce true good games that hold upthen from identify and accentuate the therapeutic benefits afterwards.

We’re going to make people feel better in their bodies, in their minds… and we’re going to do that with video games. And they won’t even see it coming ’cause they’ll be having fun !”
-Mike Wilson, co-founder of Devolver Digital

An approach that seems extremely relevant; indeed, the success of many motor and behavioral therapies depends directly on the investment of the patient. In this context, the video game is a first choice tool; it is by definition a fun activity, often pleasant as such, and therefore likely to mobilize the patient. It’s a way to combine business with pleasure, in short. “Video games are an excellent mechanism for administering therapy“, insists Dyan Douglas.

To identify the therapeutic potential of a game, The Verge explains that DeepWell will look for certain game sequences that have commonalities with techniques used in behavioral and motor therapy. And this work will not only benefit in its own right.

A concept at the service of the entire industry

Indeed, DeepWell will also work to identify and possibly strengthen the therapeutic potential of existing games. Subsequently, it will also accompany the studios to certify the therapeutic dimension of their games.

It is also important to remember a fundamental limitation of these products;, even if they are extremely promising, they will never allow to replace a complete medical care by a health professional. “There are some things that only a very competent practitioner or therapist can do”, insists Douglas.

On the other hand, this tool has excellent potential for improving clinical management. This is all the more true in the youngest and some people in disability. So it’s a project extremely exciting on a human and medical level which could offer new outlets for our favorite entertainment; We can’t wait to see what their first game, scheduled for 2023, will look like.

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