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An Evaluation of Handheld Computer Games for People with Cognitive Impairment

Project aims

The St George Foundation has funded Ability Technology to conduct an evaluation of 50 handheld computer games across various devices, including Nintendo DS, iPad, Android Tablet and the Play Station Vita. Information on the cognitive requirements (e.g. memory, creative decision making, problem solving, and speed), adjustability and user interface for each game is compiled in an evaluation table. This resource is available on our website below, specifically to aid parents, clinicians, care providers and people with disabilities when selecting games for people with cognitive impairment.


Handheld computer games can be a meaningful and enjoyable activity for people with cognitive impairments, who may otherwise have reduced recreational options. However games vary in terms of the level of cognitive skill, speed and dexterity required. An evaluation of 50 handheld computer games will be used to compile a free, user-friendly report to help guide game selection for people with cognitive impairments. People with cognitive impairments often lack recreation options, and games may provide an opportunity for challenge, learning and enjoyment. There is a huge variety of games available, and the gaming industry has developed a variety of systems for home use, making this technology both affordable and accessible. Touch screen devices such as the iPad, smart phones and tablet computers have increased the range of games and provided a new user interface. However, computer games vary in terms of the user interface, adjustability, and the speed, dexterity and cognitive skill required. Although some level of challenge is important in any game, a game that is too difficult or is not easily accessed physically may cause frustration and disappointment. It is hard to determine prior to purchasing a game whether a person with cognitive impairments will have sufficient skills to play a game, therefore an evaluation of games is useful in directing the buyer to the most appropriate game for each individual and their needs.

Literature review

A literature search was conducted using the Cinahl database, with the following search parameters: Dates: January 1, 2002 till June 1, 2012. Search terms electronic game or video game or Nintendo or Playstation or iPad or android tablet and cogni*, brain inj* + expanded search terms on electronic games. English language. Linked full text. The search yielded 28 results. Further screening of journal titles excluded articles that were not related to our project for example had a focus on Media ratings/education or relating screen time to health. Finally 7 articles met the selection criteria, and these were reviewed and data extracted. The data extracted from the literature review did not influence the method of game evaluation or selection for this project since there was no relevant literature found regarding access or use of electronic games by people with cognitive impairment.

Evaluation Tool

The evaluation design was adapted from a similar evaluation performed by Ability Technology recently on computer games. Each game was then evaluated using the evaluation tool. Additional information about individual games was collated by an OT to further assist the process of game selection for the client.

Game Selection

Games recommended for people with cognitive issues were also evaluated. These were identified by assistive technology experts and occupational therapists in blogs, websites, and in a survey. Popular and best-selling games were evaluated, identified by high user ratings and/or sales, and game reviewer opinions.


  • The Android Tablet provides more alternate access methods than the other devices evaluated.

  • Games designed for people with a disability scored higher.

  • Limited research exists involving the use of electronic games by people with cognitive impairment.

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