The National Science Foundation has given two universities a million dollars to study whether video games can improve thinking skills in the elderly. They're using Boom Blox in the research.
The grant to the universities - N.C. State and Georgia Tech - is part of the federal stimulus package and will span four years of research. Phase one of this study will seek to identify the qualities a game must have to improve cognition - memory, problem-solving, critical thinking and the like."
"We want to determine the components an effective game should have," said Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an assistant professor of psychology at N.C. State, and the study's principal investigator.
After determining which game qualities deliver the greatest improvement in cognitive function, phase two will seek to develop guidelines for "a new class of video game for older adults," and also develop a prototype game that follows those guidelines. State seems to be supplying the analysis, with Tech coming in to create the game. The study will last from September this year to August 2013.
Boom Blox was chosen as the study game because its "novelty, attentional demand and social interaction may be manipulated by the researchers."
I think it's significant for a number of reasons: They're moving the Wii-as-therapy fad beyond the examination of physical benefits. They're starting with a reasonably current and commercially successful title. And they're trying to spur games development. (And I went to N.C. State, but no one should really care about that.)
Study to See if Video Games Can Boost Thinking Skills in Elderly [Eurekalert.org thanks Jason]