Exergames for the Brain – Collaboration between the Ontario Science Centre and Ontario Brain Institute to bring Exergaming to the public

by Jordan Antflick, Senior Outreach Lead, Ontario Brain Institute

This is the KT Core-ner’s first guest blog – we welcome this post from Jordan Antflick from the Ontario Brain Institute writing about the weekend of December 6 & 7, 2014 when a collaboration between the Ontario Science Centre and the Ontario Brain Institute brought NeuroDevNet/GRAND NCE’s Exergame technology to the public.  This was a great opportunity for KT, the research teams brought research-based information about how exercise affects the brain, especially for youth living with Cerebral Palsy.

Kids visiting the Ontario Science Centre try out the Exergame bike developed by Drs. Fehlings and Graham

Kids visiting the Ontario Science Centre try out the Exergame bike developed by Drs. Fehlings and Graham

This time it was going to be a photo finish. The last obstacle, a thick patch of mud, appeared but this only made their legs pump the pedals harder and their gecko on screen slither faster. With one well-placed shot, Happy the gecko was able to slow down Sneezy the gecko enough to edge past and claim victory in this- the tie-breaking contest.

This scene comes from a recent event at the Ontario Science Centre called Brain Games (December 6 & 7, 2014) which allowed visitors to test out interactive technologies where body and brain meet through gameplay. As a member of the team at the Ontario Brain Institute which helped to co-organize the event, I got to experience first-hand the latest developments taking place in Ontario and see how neuroscience is revolutionizing the gaming experience for entertainment, health, education and wellness.

One of the most popular games on display was the one described above- the exergames, which blends physical activity with gameplay through a customized recumbent bicycle.
The exergame project is a collaboration between Dr. Darcy Fehlings from the Bloorview Research Institute at Holland-Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (funded in part by NeuroDevNet NCE) and Dr. Nicholas Graham from the EQUIS Lab at Queen’s University (funded in part by GRAND NCE) in Kingston Ontario. It combines the clinical and research expertise of Dr. Fehlings’ team (present at the event were: Samantha D’Souza, Alex MacIntosh, Karizma Mawjee) with respect to cerebral palsy, and expertise in digital gaming design and development brought by Dr. Nick Graham and his team (present at the event were: Hamilton Hernandez Alvaro and Daniel Moran).

Research teams from NeuroDevNet and GRAND NCEs assist kids visiting the Ontario Science Centre's Brain Games, so they can try out the Exergame technology

Research teams from NeuroDevNet and GRAND NCEs assist kids visiting the Ontario Science Centre’s Brain Games, so they can try out the Exergame technology

Their collaboration extended to the Brain Games event requiring representatives from both teams to setup and run the exergames, but also to tell the two sides of the story behind this project. Created to help teens with cerebral palsy become more physically active and improve their fitness, the exergames also features built-in social interaction by allowing kids to compete head-to-head against their friends each in their own homes, and communicate using a head-set with live chat.

Although the exergame system is currently a prototype designed for research and rehabilitation purposes, it was a huge hit with all families and children who stopped by for its ‘public debut’ at the Ontario Science Centre. In clinical trials, the bike was only used by about 10 kids at a time, but over the Brain Games weekend it withstood the vigorous pedaling of over 200 children.

Kids were drawn to the game but it was their parents who were the most curious. The most common question asked was ‘what does this have to do with brain?’ which provided a great lead-in to have a conversation about cerebral palsy, and the research into the benefits of physical activity for rehabilitation and for the brain. Two videos about the exergame program also looped in the background to give a broader explanation about the exergame and its impact, one of the videos was produced by NeuroDevNet’s KT Core.

Parents often commented on the value of having something like this in their own home to sneak some exercise into their kids existing gaming habits. While the exergame bike was designed specifically for teens with cerebral palsy, it was interesting to see that it resonated with all types of kids.

For now, the exergames will stay in the lab where it will continue to help kids with cerebral palsy improve their fitness and limb movement and hopefully one day soon it will be available for kids of all abilities to be able to play and exercise together in a fun and social way!

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