The University Hospital of Bellvitge uses, for the first time in the world, an interactive video game as a therapeutic tool


Since last September, the Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Bellvitge has been using regularly, for the first time in the world, an interactive video game as a complementary therapeutic tool for psychological treatment.
Specifically, they use this tool as part of the treatment of eating disorders and pathological gambling addiction. Although there were several precedents of video games (serious games) applied to the treatment of emotional and some somatic conflicts, this is the first time that a game is designed specifically to be part of an usual psychological treatment of a disorder and it also interacts with the patient’s emotions through biosensors.

The game, called Islands, has been developed between 2007 and 2010 by the Consortium Playmancer, composed of scientists and technicians from six European countries. The project has been funded by the European Union (7th Framework Programme) and the Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Ministry of Science and Innovation. Project clinical officers are Dr. Fernando Fernandez Aranda, head of the Unit for Eating Disorders Bellvitge University Hospital, and Dr. Susana Jiménez Murcia, head of the Pathological Gambling Unit of the same Hospital. Both are also researchers at the research group of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Institute of Biomedical Research of Bellvitge (IDIBELL) and Center for Biomedical Research Network in the Pathophysiology of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBERobn), Instituto de Salud Carlos III. Once completed the development and validation phase, the game has started using on a regular basis since last September at the University Hospital of Bellvitge.

Auto control

Both eating disorders and gambling addiction are manifestations in which there is an important impulsive content. According to Fernando Fernández Aranda “the main objective of this new tool is that the patients learn to control their impulses and react with self-control and serenity to stress and frustration. You don’t win if you arrive first, you win if you arrive relaxed and you have controlled the situation. ”
The goal of the game is to leave an island. The biosensors detect the voice and facial expressions and physiological reactions of the person using it. This allows the patient’s emotional reactions influence the development of the game. The user simply moves forward in order to leave the island if it reacts with self-control the situations.

Patients make use of this game during the sessions which come under congnitivoconductual therapy, which usually takes about four months. A preliminary study of the functionality in 60 individuals (30 patients and 30 controls) has demonstrated, as scientists expected, resulting in greater physiological response and emotional expression in patients diagnosed with these disorders. Dr. Susana Jiménez Murcia explained that “the game can be a good complement to conventional therapy, especially to prevent relapse.” In any case, the two researchers to ensure that project to evaluate its clinical efficacy will require monitoring of more patients and at more long-term.

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