Patients suffering from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) often have a problematic perception of time. Based on that fact, PhD student Pongpanote Gongsook from Thailand made a video game for young children, in which their time perception is measured without them noticing. It turns out that in almost nine out of ten cases, this video game called Timo’s Adventure, recognizes players with ADHD.
Timo is a robot who likes space travel. One day, he arrives on earth and has to find fuel for his spaceship. His search comprises six mini games that each evaluate an aspect of the player’s perception of time by having them perform actions in a certain order and to remember things, by measuring their reaction time, and by assessing if the player is able to wait patiently until they should act.
Meanwhile, various robots and other ‘distractors’ appear on screen. “The idea is that children with ADHD will experience more problems with the distractors than healthy children”, Gongsook says. According to him, an important advantage of the video game over traditional tests, is that the children are unaware of being tested. “That means they will behave like they always would: they simply play a fun game in which they always win at that.”
The Thai PhD student developed the video game for children aged four to eight in cooperation with psychologists from the Kempenhaeghe Center for neurological learning disabilities. In order to improve his knowledge of designing ‘serious games’, he spent a year at the University of Genoa.
In addition, the computer scientist received help from a professional designer. Each step in the design process had to be evaluated for its relevance toward a successful diagnosis. How it would fit into the game and whether every design idea could be programmed were other issues that had to be figured out. It obviously required a lot of consultation, Gongsook says, him being the pivotal figure between the Kempenhaeghe psychologists and his supervisors at the Department of Industrial Design. “That’s why I spent two days a week at Kempenhaeghe, and three at TU/e.”
But the hard work paid off: an evaluation shows that Timo’s Adventure can be used to diagnose children with ADHD correctly and more adequately than traditional tests. Interestingly, children with ADHD perform better than their ‘healthy’ peers at the mini game that measures their reaction time.
“It makes you wonder if ADHD might come with certain benefits that are lost after treatment. I think it would be great to see Timo’s Adventure be used for the treatment of ADHD.”
Article by Tom Jeltes, TU/e Cursor