After a stroke or physical injury, the road to recovery can be long and difficult. Physical therapy is a slow process that often takes months before positive effects can be felt. In the meantime, patients are stuck performing dull, repetitive tasks that feel like chores.

But what if you could make physical rehabilitation into a game? From building castles in Minecraft to smashing sweets with Candy Crush Saga, games often use repetitive actions to get players into a rhythm. Combined with in-game incentives – achievement badges, high scores, micro-rewards, positive feedback – you have all the ingredients for a fun, addictive experience that will keep people coming back for more. Casual gaming that can speed up recovery.

Fun, casual, and rewarding

That’s the thinking behind Visual Touch Therapy – a software program and game platform that gamifies physical rehabilitation therapy for victims of stroke and other injuries to make rehab fun, quicker, and measurable. VTT is the brainchild of Eric Medine, a San Francisco-based artist and software developer and CEO of Ten Ton Raygun. It all started when his uncle suffered a stroke in 2010:

He was told that after the first year he would not see any more improvement. That he would never walk up stairs again. That he would, in all likelihood, be confined to a wheelchair. Luckily, he is bad at following directions and has a supportive family that encouraged him and pressured him to keep up with his rehab. Now he’s walking up and down the stairs unaided and scaring the cats!

One thing that struck me was how difficult it was for my uncle to be aware of his own recovery, even though it was apparent to everyone else. It seemed like if there was a way to monitor and show his progress – like a graph or spreadsheet or video game rewards system – it would help enormously with keeping him motivated and positive about his progress.

Gamify the boring parts of life

Eric created VTT as an affordable, at-home therapy regimen for people with difficulty using their motor skills – not just stroke patients, but also people with spinal cord injuries, head injuries, and nerve damage. It creates an environment where the repetition becomes an advantage, and something to be enjoyed rather than dreaded.

He’s part of a broader movement towards building game elements into everyday life, from diet and exercise programs to humanitarian efforts like Occupy Sandy and SF Heroes. “Any activity that requires repetition, milestones, and improvement is tailor-made to be turned into a game,” he says. “As preventative care and outpatient therapy become more and more central to the healing process, adoption of at-home solutions that are engaging and easy to implement is inevitable.”




By using the Leap Motion Controller, users can access a range of conventional video game challenges that can be overcome by using range-of-movement exercises, including:

  • side-to-side arm movements
  • grabbing and grasping
  • swipes
  • taps
  • pushes and pulls

Building and rebuilding

Since the video at the top of this post was released, Eric has been working with the LEAP.AXLR8R to bring VTT to the next level. His biggest challenge is to create an interface that’s accessible and fun for users of all abilities.

I’ve certainly realized that the accelerator program is aptly named; I’ve built and abandoned four different prototypes in as many weeks! The most critical element is to make sure that the user is engaging with the game, not fighting with the input device, which is ultimately a consideration for any user.

What aspects of your life would you like to see transformed into a game? Post your ideas for making boring things fun in the comments below.

Arvind Gupta is the founder of the LEAP.AXLR8R and partner at SOSventures. This post originally appeared on the LEAP.AXLR8R blog.