It was time to play my medicine. I picked up an iPad and took control of a small yellow avatar, her hair standing on end, as mine would be by the end of the game. Dramatic chase music played as I swerved through a tight canyon, fetching swirling blue orbs but avoiding the cascade of other objects heading right at me. It was the video game version of patting your head and rubbing your tummy — and I didn’t feel very good at it.

Video games are often dismissed as vices — and on the surface, Akili’s game looks no different. But underneath is a “selective stimulus management engine” that a clinical trial has shown can help patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The study asked 348 children aged 8 to 12 with the condition to play the game over four weeks and discovered it could statistically improve their attention and ability to focus, despite distractions.

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