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The FDA just approved the first prescription video game — it’s for kids with ADHD

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Games just became medicine

Akili Interactive

It might not look like much of a video game, but Akili Interactive’s EndeavorRX, formerly Project EVO, may go down in history: it’s the first video game that can legally be marketed and prescribed as medicine in the US.

That’s the landmark decision from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is authorizing doctors to prescribe the iPhone and iPad game for kids between ages eight and 12 years old with ADHD, after it underwent seven years of clinical trials that studied over 600 children to figure out whether a game could actually make a difference.

According to the company’s favorite of the five studies, the answer is yes: one-third of kids treated “no longer had a measurable attention deficit on at least one measure of objective attention” after playing the obstacle-dodging, target-collecting game for 25 minutes a day, five days a week for four weeks.

“Improvements in ADHD impairments following a month of treatment with EndeavorRx were maintained for up to a month,” the company cites, with the most common side effects being frustration and headache — seemingly mild compared to traditional drugs, as you’d hope from so-called virtual medicine.

That said, we are talking about a study by doctors who work for the game’s developer, according to disclosures at the bottom of the study, and even their conclusion is that the results “are not sufficient to suggest that AKL-T01 should be used as an alternative to established and recommended treatments for ADHD.”

But it’s one more treatment to potentially try, and it’s pretty exciting to see an idea we’ve followed for years make it this far. In 2014, we wrote how “this video game might be the future of ADHD and Alzheimer’s treatment,” and in 2017 we explored how “prescription video games may be the future of medicine.” Now, a prescription video game is a real thing. It’s not in the future anymore.

It’s intriguing to see a video game treatment used for something other than distraction or exercise, too. Even one of the most stunning examples we’ve heard — that of the burn victims who use virtual reality to ease their pain — was still mostly about providing a compelling distraction in the moment.

With EndeavorRX, the next step is to actually launch the game, an Akili rep tells The Verge, though it did technically open up enrollment for a limited number of families under the FDA’s relaxed COVID-19 enforcement back in April. If you’re interested, here’s the company’s website, which currently has a waitlist you can join.

While the FDA says EndeavorRX is the first prescription video game it’s approved, a Verge reader points out that Bayer did introduce an FDA-approved glucose meter called Didget that could plug into a Nintendo DS back in 2010, which gave kids points for testing their glucose levels that they could spend in the “exclusive Knock Em Downs™: World’s Fair video game.” Here’s a Wayback Machine link to Bayer’s old website.

Nintendo also tried to create a Wii Vitality Sensor back in 2009, but ended up shelving the project by 2013.

Update, June 16th at 1:27 PM ET: Added info about Bayer’s Didget.