Mar 15, 2022 - Technology

DeepWell aims to create video games used as health care

Illustration of a stethoscope with a video game controller at the end
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If upstart video game publisher DeepWell has its way, you’ll someday be able to buy a video game and see a label about what therapeutic benefits you’d get from playing it.

Driving the news: DeepWell is coming out of a yearlong incubation today, as its founders aim to rewire how games are used for health care, with a focus on mental health, in early 2023.

The details: The company is the brainchild of medical devices executive Ryan Douglas and veteran game publisher Mike Wilson, who are assembling a team from their respective fields to push the health benefits of playing certain games.

  • The team isn’t revealing any projects yet, but Wilson tells Axios that its first game, set for Q1 2023 and developed with an outside team, will be designed to treat mild to moderate depression, anxiety and hypertension.
  • DeepWell isn’t just making games. It is developing a framework to help other game makers create medically beneficial games and get FDA approval for them as over-the-counter treatments.
  • Company leaders also want to look back, identifying the health benefits of playing some existing games and getting them officially recognized and labeled. (For an idea about how that would work, consider research that suggests that playing Tetris helped survivors of car crashes process their trauma.)

The big picture: Health and gaming have been converging for some time, as researchers recognize the benefits afforded by interactive entertainment.

Wilson describes DeepWell as a convergence of personal concerns.

  • He is a serial starter of game companies and an industry maverick. His last big endeavor, indie-friendly publisher Devolver Digital, went public last year at a nearly $1 billion valuation.
  • Indie studios, which DeepWell will work with, have the agility to lead in the production of health-oriented games, he says.
  • More personally, he recounts his own struggles with mental health and those of loved ones, including a sibling who died by suicide. He describes mental health as an epidemic, one he wants to help fight.

The bottom line: “I don’t honestly care how big DeepWell gets,” Wilson tells Axios.

  • “But if in 10 years there are a dozen other companies doing this and we're somewhere in there or we helped inspire people to think in this way, that's really what I'm in it for.”

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