PLAY THIS DRUG

A video game-maker that promises to treat ADHD just won $30 million in funding

Eyes on the prize.
Eyes on the prize.
Image: Flickr/Valentin Ottone, CC BY 2.0
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Learn to play Angry Birds in a world full of chaos, and improve your mental health. That’s the idea behind Project: EVO, a video game that hopes to help kids with ADHD learn to focus in a distracting environment.

The game is being developed by Boston-based Akili Interactive Labs, which promises to create ”a different type of medical product” that can act as a true treatment. Investors seem to be buying it: The company just racked up $30.5 million in funding and now looks to launch Project: EVO in late 2017.

The game brings you through a virtual world of colorful distractions and asks you to remain focused on certain tasks. Results from a pilot study on 80 children between 8 and 12 showed the game could at least temporarily improve attention and spatial memory in those with ADHD. The game is currently in clinical trials.

“While our product does look like a game, it is a medical device—digital medicine in the form of a video game,” Akili’s CEO Eddie Martucci wrote to Quartz in an email. To that end, the company is also developing ways to treat autism, depression, Alzheimer’s, and brain trauma.

Indeed, the company’s commitment to effective treatment doesn’t appear to be just lip service: Unlike other video games, this one sees clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration as crucial for launch. Martucci writes that this is uncharted territory but a necessary measure to gain the confidence of providers and families.

“We want this to be a mainstream option in any doctor’s office, right next to Adderall,” he told The New York Times in November.

Video games are stereotypically thought to erode attention spans and generally make mush of young people, but among scientists there isn’t much consensus on their effects. In the past research has focused on whether violent games make kids more aggressive or prone to drug use, but a growing body of research is focused on the potential for good—how video games may improve attention, hand-eye coordination, and problem-solving.

Image by Valentin Ottone on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.