3 min read

Putting the Fun in Rehabilitation

This is the first post in a series that will detail the design, development, and testing of a customized game for rehabilitation called Mystic Isle. Stay tuned for more!

Games are my passion.  Games are the future.

I am not a gamer. I am not a programmer. I am an occupational therapist. And I believe that video games and virtual reality will revolutionize rehabilitation.

So What’s the Problem with Traditional Rehabilitation?

During graduate school to become an occupational therapist, I learned about various interventions for people with neurological injuries, including stroke, traumatic brain injury or cerebral palsy. The idea of stacking cones hundreds of times in order to elicit functional changes seemed tedious, and quite frankly, BORING.  Furthermore, patients are frequently given a list of exercises to do in their homes. Do you go to the gym every day? Me neither. So why would I want to do boring exercises and movements everyday. Enter video games. The prospect of using something: gasp: fun and exciting to deliver rehabilitation exercises was motivation enough continue my education and thesis. For the rest of grad school, developing and testing games for rehabilitation was my focus, my motivation, and my reason for graduating!

A Unique Understanding of Video Games for Rehabilitation

At the same time, Dr. Belinda Lange and her colleagues at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies were exploring the usefulness of off-the-shelf video games and controllers for rehabilitation. This was around the time the Nintendo Wii came out and brought movement to the gaming world.  Lange’s studies found that although these games are fun, they are not always accessible for clients with disabilities and and they lack the customization that occupational and physical therapists require for their treatment tools.

I joined the lab and we developed Mystic Isle, a customized video game designed to meet the specific needs of patients and therapists. This is how I believe we will change the way rehabilitation is delivered and how we will address the gaps in practice that exist for our patients. No more stacking cones. Patients will now ENJOY their rehabilitation and have a tool that will motivate and encourage them to progress forward in their rehabilitation.

The VR for Rehab Revolution: Mystic Isle

Mystic Isle ( addresses several core concerns and needs of the therapy world and people with disabilities and includes:

  • Comprehensive data that allow therapists to monitor client progress
  • Client-centered games that address the specific treatment goals of the individual client
  • Games that are motivating by providing the just-right-level of challenge
  • Low cost, commercially available devices

In coming posts, I will address each point in detail and describe the components of Mystic Isle in relation to each point. For now, you can see Mystic Isle in action over here (  To top it off, I will be utilizing the Mystic Isle architecture to develop games for specific populations, including people with TBI amputations, and spinal cord injuries. My work is focused on  determining the “active ingredients” that lead to increased functional abilities and structuring increasingly larger clinical trials to test the effectiveness of these games for improving the lives of clients with various disabilities! 

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