California-based BrainLeap Technologies is putting out a new research-backed video game to help kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and broader attention issues—an oft-forgotten audience for game-makers—to improve their critical functions like focus, memory and self-control.
The company launched Attention Arcade platform, which is made up of six games that kids control using only their eyes. Using eye-tracking tech, the games run the gamut from steering a space ship in Space Race (pictured), to guiding a butterfly along a path.
The platform, which launched August 20, also includes a tool that tracks progress. Consumers subscribe to The Attention Arcade from BrainLeap for US$39.99 a month through its website. For those who don’t have an eye-tracker, which usually retails upwards of US$200, they can rent one for US$49.99 a month, which also allows them to access content.
Attention Arcade emerged after co-founder and chief science officer Leanne Chukoskie worked to study kids attention spans at the University of California San Diego as the director for its power of Neurogaming Center. There, she focused on designing, developing and testing video games that can assess and improve cognitive and motor function.
“Attention is a foundational skill that helps improve the brain’s executive functions, like memory and self-control,” says Chukoskie. “So much of what kids learn in school is focused on these executive functions, but they’ll have trouble learning any of it if they can’t focus or control their attention.”
While building the company, Chukoskie worked at the University of California, and through its research (funded by the National Institute of Health), a clinical trial found that BrainLeap’s games sparked a 68% improvement in fast and accurate attention shifts. It also drove a 55% increase in focusing attention, as well as a 30% improvement in overall focus among nine- to 25-year-olds with ADHD, according to BrainLeap.
According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than six million children two to 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD in 2016 , indicating that there are a lot of kids who could benefit from games that are fun, but also therapeutic, says Chukoskie. There are also many families who don’t get their kids diagnosed but either suspect they have issues with attention or just want resources to help children without ADHD improve their focus, which opens up a larger market of families looking for content, she adds.
The games are short, because the team learned in beta-testing that kids became physically tired of constantly controlling their gaze after 30 minutes. Researchers also learned that cartoon characters and simple games (like a variation on whack-a-mole where kids have to look at moles as they pop up) really draws kids three to seven, but once they hit 12-years-old the toons become less engaging, adds Chukoskie. To widen its reach, they plan on building out more games and are thinking about launching an app as well.
“Many kids need to build their attention skills and aren’t getting the opportunities to do so,” says Chukoskie. “Improving their focus can help them do better in school and also well beyond it.”
New titles like Akili Network’s EndeavorRx—which is marketed as the first video game to get FDA clearance as a prescription treatment for kids with ADHD—show that there’s a growing market for these types of games, says co-founder and CEO Jeff Coleman.
BrainLeap’s original plan was to try and get its games into schools through partnerships. But with COVID-19 shuttering classrooms, and kids staying at home more during the pandemic, the company shifted to trying to reach at-home consumers, adds Coleman.
Once more kids are back in schools, BrainLeap is looking at re-entering the educational space though. But beyond that, there’s also an opportunity for the company to work with juvenile detention centers, where underserved kids often have issues with attention and few resources to help, says Chuckoskie. Looking forward there’s potential for BrainLeap to expand into more research-backed games that could be therapeutic and focus on wellness education for other learning disabilities, she adds.