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$8.2m study to probe medical benefits of videogames

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The alleged negative effects of videogames have been well documented. But a multi-million dollar research fund has been created to discover if they could be used as an alternative form of clinical therapy.

In the first round of funding, 12 research teams, including the Maine Medical Center and University of Southern California, have each received up to $200,000 (£100,000/€128,200) to fund one- or two-year experiments probing the therapeutic benefits of videogames.

It’s hoped the research will highlight new ways that videogame design principles could be adapted to provide some form of physical or mental benefit - aside from the stress relief often found by blasting down virtual opponents with an Uzi.

Could a Wii Fit-style game be used to treat arthritis? Or perhaps someone suffering from depression help to treat themselves with ten minutes of daily gameplay? The research aims to find out.

One of the research teams, based at Cornell University, plans to embark upon a study using a mobile phone game. Using Mindless Eating Challenge, the study is designed to examine the ways that persuasion in a videogame can be used to promote healthy eating habits in kids.

At the other end of the age scale, the University of Florida will use its funding to examine how the visual attention skills of senior citizens can be improved by regular doses of the Crazy Taxi videogame,

The University of South Carolina Research Foundation intends to pit the Nintendo’s Wii against Sony’s Eye digicam to study mobility, balance and fear of falling in post-stroke sufferers.

The funding has been provided by US healthcare centre the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The RWJF has set aside a total of $8.2m (£4.1/€5.2) to help “strengthen the evidence that videogames can be used to improve players’ health behaviours and outcomes”. Further funding will be allocated in a second stage of research. Debra Lieberman, a researcher in the Institute for Social, Behavioural, and Economic Research at the University of California, will have overall responsibility for managing the project.

A whole range of studies into the negative and positive effects of videogames have already been published. For example, earlier this month a study found that videogames can cause men to revert back to their caveman roots. Whilst a separate report concluded recently that aggressive videogame titles, such as Grand Theft Auto IV, may actually help cut the number of physical violent crimes committed.

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