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Focus on stroke: How video games aid stroke recovery

24 May, 2012

Video games frequently get a hard time in the media – some would have us believe they’re the root cause of a range of foul behaviours, from rioting to far worse. Recently I was afforded the opportunity to shine a light on the lesser-hyped world of videogames – that they can be used for tremendous good – and, as a ‘hard core’ gamer myself, I leapt at the chance to fight in this young medium’s corner.

A stroke is an incredibly unforgiving event in a person’s life. With little or no warning a person can suddenly find herself bereft of speech, sight or, in the case of Catherine Armstrong, movement. Two years after her stroke, Catherine’s doing very well – when first invited into her immaculate Newcastle home, it was difficult to tell anything at all was amiss. Only after a few minutes do the tell-tale signs – restricted movement, a slightly uncertain gait – become more apparent.

Today, Catherine is going to show us how she uses Circus Challenge, an action video game based on the various, death defying and exhilarating acts one might find in a virtual circus. First things first, however, we get to know each other over a cup of tea.

Circus Challenge is an action game developed by company, ‘Limbs Alive’, a new collaboration between a team led by Newcastle University’s Professor Janet Eyre and the Department of Health, a result of the Health Innovation Challenge Fund (a joint partnership between the Wellcome Trust and the Department of Health).

The key to the game is that the beautiful, graphical interface hides a wealth scientific design. Janet has brought together a dream team of game designers, mathematicians and clinicians who are able to fuse a good deal of fun, real world movements that aid rehabilitation and the ability to analyse the actual movements a player makes. By doing so, the team are able to capture precise data about the player’s movements and determine whether or not they are improving and, if so, at what rate. It’s still early days but the team will soon be working with other volunteers to develop and refine the game to a point where it’s available throughout the NHS.

With the ritualistic cup of tea downed, Catherine graces us with a demonstration of Circus Challenge. As she moves her arms in accordance with the game’s needs, Catherine is wonderfully oblivious of the painstaking research that’s causing her to grin like a ten year old – she is simply having fun.

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