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A Video Game for Angry Teens

Incorporating heart-rate monitoring into gaming might help teens practice self-control.
October 2, 2009

Teenage boys, especially those with emotional problems, aren’t the most receptive group when it comes to therapy. So Jason Kahn, a researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, and Peter Ducharme, a clinical social worker also at Children’s, have developed a Space Invaders-like video game that they hope will help engage their adolescent patients in therapy. “This changes the perception of therapy because it’s about playing games,” said Ducharme, who presented the research at the Future of Health Technology conference at MIT earlier this week.

The game, in which players shoot down alien invaders while avoiding friendly ships, is rigged to a heart-rate monitor worn by the player. If the player’s heart rate goes too high during the game, the game becomes more difficult to control. In response, the player then employs relaxation techniques previously learned in therapy within the context of the game, slowing their heart rate and calming them down. “The idea is to create a mildly stressful situation where the player must regulate his response,” said Kahn. “Hopefully that ability to exert control will expand to other situations.”

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