Practicum Proposal: Videogames and Medicine

Martha Karnes is also an author of this proposal.

In Persuasive Games, Ian Bogost (2007) defines serious games as “videogames created to support the existing and established interests of political, corporate, and social institutions” (57). Because there is no more “serious” arena than health and medicine, to consider this question we turn to the intersection of videogames—serious games—and medicine. For instance, in June 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted its first approval of a videogame, EndeavorRX, to be 1) marketed as a therapeutic treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and 2) medically prescribed and reimbursed by insurance. In doing so, the FDA has also sanctioned a new category of medical devices, while potentially expanding the market for “digital therapeutics,” preceded by the FDA’s approval of an app for the treatment of opioid addiction. This shift seems particularly significant for the gaming industry, which has previously resisted any kind of regulation, and raises potential tensions in the intersection of tech-commerce, regulatory oversight, and patient care. 
In this study, we will investigate the processes that have made this game “serious,” through analyzing the various materials and cuts that have made and moved this game into the category of medicine—that have made the game medicine. This analysis will include materials that moved EndeavorRX through the FDA’s regulatory process, that market the game in the decision’s aftermath, and that demonstrate the reception of FDA’s announcement in gaming and ADHD support groups online. As rhetoricians, we are interested in the potential implications of the FDA’s decision for the category of “serious games,” and whether this approval has been accomplished through re-classification of the “game” as something else (in this case, “digital therapeutics”), as well as the material-discursive processes that allow for this category creation. Through analyzing these materials and material-discursive processes, we hope to gain insight into the way those processes make medicine and seriousness. In doing so, we have an opportunity not just to consider the matter of medicine, but the matter of seriousness, itself.

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