Therapeutic Uses of Active Videogames: A Systematic Review

Games Health J. 2014 Dec;3(6):351-65. doi: 10.1089/g4h.2013.0100. Epub 2014 Sep 16.


Background: Active videogames (AVGs) may be useful for promoting physical activity for therapeutic uses, including for balance, rehabilitation, and management of illness or disease. The literature from 64 peer-reviewed publications that assessed health outcomes of AVGs for therapeutic purposes was synthesized.

Materials and methods: PubMed, Medline, and PyschInfo were queried for original studies related to the use of AVGs to improve physical outcomes in patients who were ill or undergoing rehabilitation related to balance, burn treatment, cancer, cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, extremity dysfunction or amputation, hospitalization, lupus, Parkinson's disease, spinal injury, or stroke. The following inclusion criteria were used: (1) human subjects; (2) English language; (3) not duplicates; (4) new empirical data; and (5) tests an AVG, including commercially available or custom-designed. Studies were included regardless of participants' age or the study design.

Results and limitations: Overall, the vast majority of studies demonstrated promising results for improved health outcomes related to therapy, including significantly greater or comparable effects of AVG play versus usual care. However, many studies were pilot trials with small, homogeneous samples, and many studies lacked a control or comparison group. Some trials tested multiweek or multimonth interventions, although many used a single bout of gameplay, and few included follow-up assessments to test sustainability of improved health.

Conclusions and implications: AVGs were acceptable and enjoyable to the populations examined and appear as a promising tool for balance, rehabilitation, and illness management. Future research directions and implications for clinicians are discussed.