Serious Game Design and Clinical Improvement in Physical Rehabilitation: Systematic Review

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JMIR Serious Games. 2021 Sep 23;9(3):e20066. doi: 10.2196/20066.

ABSTRACT

BACKGROUND: Serious video games have now been used and assessed in clinical protocols, with several studies reporting patient improvement and engagement with this type of therapy. Even though some literature reviews have approached this topic from a game perspective and presented a broad overview of the types of video games that have been used in this context, there is still a need to better understand how different game characteristics and development strategies might impact and relate to clinical outcomes.

OBJECTIVE: This review assessed the relationship between the characteristics of serious games (SGs) and their relationship with the clinical outcomes of studies that use this type of therapy in motor impairment rehabilitation of patients with stroke, multiple sclerosis, or cerebral palsy. The purpose was to take a closer look at video game design features described in the literature (game genre [GG], game nature [GN], and game development strategy [GDS]) and assess how they may contribute toward improving health outcomes. Additionally, this review attempted to bring together medical and game development perspectives to facilitate communication between clinicians and game developers, therefore easing the process of choosing the video games to be used for physical rehabilitation.

METHODS: We analyzed the main features of SG design to obtain significant clinical outcomes when applied to physical rehabilitation of patients recovering from motor impairments resulting from stroke, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy. We implemented a PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) database-adjusted electronic search strategy for the PubMed, IEEE Xplore, and Cochrane databases.

RESULTS: We screened 623 related papers from 2010-2021 and identified 12 that presented results compatible with our inclusion criteria. A total of 512 participants with stroke (8 studies, 417 participants), cerebral palsy (1 study, 8 participants), and multiple sclerosis (2 studies, 46 participants) were included; 1 study targeting the elderly (41 participants) was also included. All studies assessed motor, sensory, and functional functions, while some also measured general health outcomes. Interventions with games were used for upper-limb motor rehabilitation. Of the 12 studies, 8 presented significant improvements in at least one clinical measurement, of which 6 presented games from the casual GG, 1 combined the casual, simulation, and exergaming GGs, and 2 combined the sports and simulation GGs.

CONCLUSIONS: Of the possible combinations of game design features (GG, GN, and GDS) described, custom-made casual games that resort to the first-person perspective, do not feature a visible player character, are played in single-player mode, and use nonimmersive virtual reality attain the best results in terms of positive clinical outcomes. In addition, the use of custom-made games versus commercial off-the-shelf games tends to give better clinical results, although the latter are perceived as more motivating and engaging.

PMID:34554102 | DOI:10.2196/20066