Healing Games

Summer 2017

Kata Therapeutic Table
(Image: Will Kirk / Homewood Photography)

Students come to Homewood’s Brody Learning Commons for lots of reasons, from studying to socializing with friends. Soon they will be able to add helping patients recover from stroke and brain injury to that list, thanks to the installation of a special gaming table in BLC’s lower level.

Called the Kata Therapeutic Table, this device—once fully operational this fall—will allow students, faculty members, and staff members to play video games remotely with neurology patients at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The games they will play have been specially designed to give neurologically impaired players a dynamic, immersive experience that helps stimulate brain recovery.

The Kata group, led by Omar Ahmad, director of innovative engineering in the Department of Neurology and a member of the Malone Center for Engineering in Healthcare, brings engineers and neuroscientists together with artists, technicians, and entertainment industry specialists with the aim of devising new ways to help people recover from neurological diseases and injuries. Inspired by the clinical research and findings of John Krakauer, the John C. Malone Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience, social multiplayer gaming for patients is just one of the many innovative ideas the team is exploring and implementing.

Embedded in the table is a 4K touch screen, which eventually will connect student players with patients. According to Ahmad, each element of the setup was designed with the needs of those patients in mind.

“We have been interested in multiplayer games for a while, so it wasn’t a big leap from multiplayer to the idea of having patients at the medical center play remotely with others outside of the hospital and rehab center,” he says.

Though the Kata team initially envisioned installing the table in hospitals and waiting rooms—settings close to patients—they soon realized that the Homewood campus presented them with an opportunity for easy access to the largest gaming community one could find at the university: students. Single players are already using it to play Kata’s Bandit Shark Showdown game, which features the realistic dolphin “Bandit” fighting off menacing sharks.