A video game developed by researchers at Imperial College London was shown to help patients recover from conditions that led to physical impairment by creating a collaborative environment with healthy volunteers, such as therapists and family members.
This game-based therapy may represent a new rehabilitation option for patients with illnesses such as cerebral palsy, stroke, musculoskeletal injuries, and arthritis.
The game, called “Balloon Buddies,” was designed to level the difficulty according to participant limitations, making it a more rewarding system for less-abled individuals. As both partners must continuously work together to score points, the leveled game design creates a fun and challenging environment for both players.
“Balloon Buddies” creates a conventional video game environment with animation, sounds, and vibration feedback. The game requires players to balance a ball on a beam that is lifted by balloons at each end. The ends of the beam are controlled by players using wireless, force-sensitive handgrips.
To test the game, researchers asked 16 stroke survivors to play the game both in single-player mode and together with healthy volunteers in dual-player mode.
They found that patient performance improved significantly when playing with a healthy partner. Additionally, researchers found that patients who had a poorer performance when playing alone showed greater improvement when playing in the dual-player mode.
These findings suggest that patients exert more effort when playing with healthy volunteers, which can ultimately lead to improved physical rehabilitation.
The results of “Balloon Buddies” tests were reported in the study, “Balancing the playing field: collaborative gaming for physical training,” published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.
“Video games are a great way of providing repetitive exercise to help patients recover from debilitating illnesses. However, most games are designed for users to play on their own, which can actually discourage and isolate many patients,” Michael Mace, the study’s lead author from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, said in a press release.
“We developed the Balloon Buddy game to enable patients to train with their friends, family or caregivers in a collaborative and playful manner,” Mace added.
The team plans to conduct a second study with a larger group of patients to evaluate if the game can improve learning and recovery training motivation. They will also explore the social impact of “Balloon Buddies” by analyzing social interactions among patients and their relatives, or with strangers.
Researchers also plan to continue developing the game to allow new multiplayer concepts to be used in different clinical and recovery settings, such as in community centers or remotely at home.
Watch a video of participants playing “Balloon Buddies” here.