The Feasibility of Mixed Reality Gaming as a Tool for Physical Therapy Following a Spinal Cord Injury

(1) Marlborough School, Los Angeles, CA, (2) University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

Physical therapy, often a tedious and non-social experience, has a low retention rate. For Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) patients in particular, dropping out leads to further physiological and emotional problems. This study seeks to determine how Skyfarer—a mixed reality game for SCI patients with chronic shoulder pain—can serve as an effective tool to improve players’ physical health. We also examined whether Skyfarer can make physical therapy a social experience: SCI patients can play with their friends and family, which could further improve players’ emotional health. In order to assess these possibilities, we recruited individuals with and without SCI to participate in our study and evaluated the physical and immersive experiences of both the disabled and able-bodied players through semistructured interviews. We coded this qualitative data using six ideals from the Transtheoretical Checklist and analyzed the game’s effectiveness as a physical therapy tool, along with its ability to cultivate a social experience. Parameters considered were subjects’ physical exertion levels, immersion levels, and the predicted adherence levels for each group. Our results indicate that both SCI and non-SCI players found the game effective and engaging, suggesting that Skyfarer can serve as a successful and social alternative to conventional physical therapy. Mixed reality storytelling technology remains in a nascent phase, but this study shows that video games have the power to transform the way we approach healthcare and rehabilitation.

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