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The Truth About This FDA Approved Video Game

Akili Interactive has developed a video game that it believes can help treat ADHD in children. The game, called Endeavor, is designed to be used alongside other treatments to further reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve concentration.

Endeavor sends players cruising through various levels including a calm river, an underwater area, and what appears to be an active volcano. Players must hit checkpoints, dodge obstacles, and collect certain types of critters while avoiding others. Players are rewarded with in-game money for finishing tasks, which it seems can then be spent on various costumes for the player character. While Endeavor looks a lot like many other mobile titles, Akili refers to it as a digitally delivered treatment rather than a simple video game.

One round of treatment with Endeavor lasts for a month, though Akili says that continuing to use the program can keep improving the results. Each day of treatment the program will give its user five different missions, each of which are meant to make players concentrate on tasks while ignoring distractions. For example, the trailer shows the player being instructed to capture blue critters while avoiding other colors. It seems to basically be a type of mental exercise, strengthening a child's ability to block out irrelevant stimuli and focus on their current tasks.

For parents concerned about their children playing too many video games, Akili clarifies that Endeavor is only used five days a week and the five missions should take anywhere from 25 to 30 minutes to finish. Once treatment is done for the day the program locks itself so children can't keep playing. Akili also tells parents to let their children know that it's okay to take a break during treatment if they start feeling strain or fatigue.

The game is actually only one part of Akili's recommended treatment. The full Endeavor Treatment System involves playing Endeavor five days a week and tracking behavior using Akili's ADHD Insight app. It also comes with Akili Assist, which is basically a support line for the child's caregiver to discuss questions and concerns with the company.

Five separate studies have shown that the Endeavor Treatment System can reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms in children ages 8-12. It's not meant to be a replacement for traditional ADHD treatments and shouldn't be used as one, but when used in addition to other treatments the results look promising so far. One such study showed that children who used Endeavor alongside their normal treatments showed significant improvement compared to the control group, who were given a simple word game instead of Endeavor.

Side effects were rare and very mild. The two most commonly reported side effects in the above study were frustration and headaches, each of which were reported by about 3% of the participants. But, as any gamer knows, frustration and headaches are par for the course. According to Akili's website, other side effects include "dizziness, emotional reaction, nausea or aggression."

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has permitted Endeavor to be marketed as a treatment for ADHD, which — it should be noted — isn't the same thing as being evaluated and cleared. During the COVID-19 crisis, the FDA put new guidelines into place, which is how Endeavor made it through so quickly. These new guidelines allow clinically-supported treatments with low risk of side effects, such as a video game, to be marketed without being formally cleared by the administration.

As many of you probably know, there's a long-standing debate about whether video games are healthy or not. Some parents (not as many these days, but still some) firmly believe that games are mind-rotting trash. On the other hand, studies have shown that games actually have many benefits for players, including improved hand-eye coordination, multitasking, teamwork, and creativity.

This isn't even the first time that video games have been studied as an option to treat specific mental disorders. Various studies have explored using games to treat symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even PTSD. However, this is the first time that a game has been specifically designed and marketed as a treatment for such a condition, complete with clinical trials. As such, Endeavor could be an exciting new step in both video game design and mental healthcare, and hopefully it'll help put the urban legend of brain-rot to bed.

There is currently a wait list for Endeavor that parents, caregivers, and medical professionals can add themselves to on Akili's website. It doesn't say exactly when Endeavor will be made available to the public, but promises that Akili will get in touch when treatment becomes available.