Microbes is a game for rehabilitation, developed based on research from the Faculty of Human Movement Sciences at the VU University in Amsterdam. People with impaired walking patterns, caused by a stroke or an orthopedic injury, have a high risk of falling which can be devastating for the rehabilitation process. This high risk of falling is mainly caused by the patients’ inability to change their walking pattern when required. Such changes in walking patterns are required very often in every-day life when for example stepping over the doorpost of avoiding a rain puddle. The researchers at the VU advice that rehabilitation processes for impaired walking should focus on (re)learning the stepping strategies which can be used to be adaptive during walking.
Microbes uses controlled environmental changes to challenge people to adapt their walking pattern and thereby (re)learn to use all different aspects of gait adaptability. Several therapeutic walking exercises (obstacle avoidance, target-steps, side-steps or speeding-up and slowing-down) can be trained in a fun and motivating way. By using fluent transitions between the different tasks, the patient stays fully emerged and doesn’t notice the increasing difficulty level of the exercises. The difficulty level of the walking exercises is automatically scaled to the ability level of the patient, which makes this training suitable for a large group of patients.
In the game the patient controls a microbe while walking on a treadmill. The Microbe is traveling through a wonderful world filled with bacteria and other organisms. By eating enough life essence, you will evolve to a next area. The goal is to evolve as much as possible by catching enough live essence while avoiding enemies.
Microbes can be played on all Motek Medical’s treadmill based systems, which are situated in rehabilitation hospitals all over the world.
Microbes is specifically developed for rehabilitation of impaired walking and is the first and only game that focuses on all aspects of adaptability in a patient’s walking pattern to reduce the risk of falling. Clinical relevance was the main focus developing this game. We used a scientific study as the rationale for the game developed. The patient centered design, in which early stage involvement of patients, ensured that the game is suitable for patients both regarding the gameplay as the virtual environment. Multiple development iteration loops with extensive playtesting with patients ensure the usefulness of the game in a clinical setting. Beta-testing at experienced clinical sites using Motek Medical’s systems ensured the practical usefulness.
The combination of improving your walking pattern on a treadmill while playing a game uses a unique method of control input, allowing real-time adjustments to the gait pattern with an interactive and dynamic VR scenario. While having 2D gameplay, Microbes offers a 3D environment which strengthens the feeling of being a tiny cell somewhere in a vibrant world. After completing a stage, the patient’s microbe will fly to the next stage and is presented with a different environment and gait task to perform. All different gameplay types within Microbes are built around clinical goals, which are scientifically proven. Each task will exercise the patient’s walking pattern in a different manner by challenging them to walk faster or slower, sideways or take steps that differ from their normal gait pace. Microbes offers a progressive difficulty level which ensures that patients with different levels of experience will still be challenged.
Key factor in designing the visuals was providing a safe immersive atmosphere without providing any disturbing external references. We created an environment most patients only know from pictures but to which the patient can still relate to. This makes the game suitable for therapy sessions with all sorts of patients having different etiologies and interests.
The music used in the game was designed to create a more immersive experience, without being too distractive for the intended patient populations (e.g. Stroke). While you visually flow to a new area the background music will change enlarging the feeling of progress.