• 06.12.12

How A Video Game Is Helping To Heal Stroke Victims

It’s not just a fun way to do rehabilitation; it’s uniquely quantifiable.

How A Video Game Is Helping To Heal Stroke Victims

One out of 18 people die from a stroke. Those who live are lucky, but still deal with its after effects, as strokes often damage the areas in the brain that coordinate movement. In the U.K., fewer than 20% of affected survivors recover enough arm and hand use to be self-sufficient–and that’s probably a better statistic than much of the rest of the world.


Limbs Alive has been making headlines since its founding in 2010. It’s a company that, in association with Newcastle University, is creating video games for stroke victims. Their first set of games is called Circus Challenge, and to the naked eye, it’s indistinguishable from modern video games.

The graphics are colorful and 3-D. The art direction doesn’t look medicinal or therapeutic. Even the twin motion controllers look like they could belong to a console by Sony or Nintendo. But as patients play, they’re challenged to move their upper limbs, motivated, not by the expensive sports therapist, but the addictive gratification of a video game.

But the brilliance isn’t just in gamification and cheap physical therapy; it’s that games give us an entire secondary set of metrics to analyze.

As Professor Janet Eyre explains in the above video, a game can offer “high motivation with standardized conditions”–a duplicatable set of parameters to challenge a huge population of patients. The games can record player data, not just for progressing through levels, but sharing with doctors–even becoming mathematical projections to answer Eyre’s most basic questions: “Am I making real progress? If I spent more time in the game, would I make more progress?”

This two-way data service is a benefit I’d never considered in video games. Whereas I can see my friend’s top scores of any title on Xbox Live, this same sort of principle could instantly become a study on how patients respond to stroke rehabilitation. And maybe the outliers–the high scorers and the low scorers–could teach us even more as to why programs really work for some and really don’t work for others.

Last week, we saw that Nike+ was making its way into video games. With apps like Limbs Alive, we’ll soon have the whole gamut of health, from prevention to treatment, streaming in our living rooms. It sure beats having 20 more pay-per-view channels. And who woulda thunk, being a “couch potato” might soon save your life?


[Hat tip: psfk]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.