In a pretty significant indicator that gaming is making inroads into everyday life, the Food and Drug Administration last year gave its first approval to a video game to improve attention function in children.

The game, “EndeavorRX” by Akili Interactive, may point to a potentially growing field of prescription-strength gaming, according to the 2021 Tech Trends Report by the Future Today Institute. Amy Webb, futurist and founder of the organization, made her annual presentation at SXSW on Tuesday, detailing her firm’s insights into the near- and long-term future of various media and technology industries, including news, health and the sciences.

Akili Interactive formed in 2011 with the intent to create games for clinical therapy. “EndeavorRX” is an on-the-rails, character-based racing game with bright colors, looking similar to a mascot-driven title like “Crash Bandicoot." But its game mechanics are designed “for target activation of specific neural systems in the brain to treat diseases with associated cognitive dysfunction.”

The company was formed through a longtime, natural friendship between two of its founders, Matt Omernick, who worked for 10 years at LucasArts, the former studio and game development arm for the “Star Wars” brand, and neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, who worked out of the University of California, San Francisco, developing how cognitive abilities can be enhanced through video games.

Omernick said that when the two met about 15 years ago, they had a fascination with each other’s works. Omernick was always obsessed with how the brain works, while Gazzaley was curious about how games are created.

“He really understood the power of experiences, and that’s where the neuroscience is blooming," Omernick said. “It’s experiences that can chance the physiology of the brain, good and bad. Experiences in your life rewire your brain, and games are one of the best vessels on Earth to deliver experiences."

The company, hoping to prove that games can rewire the nerves to positive effect, had to submit five studies of more than 600 children before approval. The published studies demonstrate the game can be used to “improve objectively measured inattention” in children with ADHD. Akili submitted to the FDA a “De Novo Classification Request,” which is meant to provide risk-based classification for medical devices with no real precedence in the legal market.

Last year in a statement, Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, praised “EndeavorRX" as “an important example of the growing field of digital therapy and digital therapeutics,” and that the FDA is always looking for regulatory inroads for innovative therapeutic solutions.

The game is also one more argument against the blanket assumption that all gaming is bad for one’s mental health. Even as recently as this year, news reports continue to focus on how gaming inspires violent or aggressive behavior, despite years of studies that have found no correlation.

An FDA-approved video game is just one indicator of how gaming is taking over the media landscape, according to the 2021 Tech Trends Report. Video games are mentioned all over the report, available on the Institute’s website. It says to expect a platform bidding war for streaming rights to events like the League of Legends World Championships and “Fortnite” concerts, and that these events will soon rival TV as mainstream entertainment.

In analyzing the news and media landscape, the report states that the nature of subscription services has changed, and will continue to evolve as consumers will be asked to pay for virtual fashion, experiences and games. The report cites subscription service platform Zuora that the media business has an average subscription dropout rate of 34 percent, the highest of any industry sector studied. It stresses that local newspapers are not just competing with the likes of The Washington Post or The New York Times, but every audience-funded business.

“To track the future of subscriptions, watch gaming platforms like ‘Fortnite,’ which is free but boasts an ecosystem of in-game purchases that successfully entices users to spend,” the report states. “How many news subscriptions can honestly say the same?”

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