Video games got a bad rap in the ‘80s and ‘90s – especially with ADD.
Before we understood how widespread ADHD was, before we had fully defined it in the way that doctors do today – before we even called it ADHD – people were blaming video games for the disorder. They were wrong.
To their credit, the argument had some intuitive sense. If you did nothing but feed kids sugar and processed foods, and then gave their brain lots of flashing lights and games that punished long attention spans, surely you’d end up with a bunch of kids that couldn’t sit still.
Fast forward 30 years, and we know that ADHD is highly genetic, and that it’s not because of faulty parenting. We also know that video games don’t cause ADHD. But they can treat ADHD.
We’ve got 10 of them for your consideration.
Video Games for ADHD Therapy
Yes, and no. People certainly make them, but none of the best are available for general distribution. Most of them are available only to schools, and the most promising one is still in the testing phase.
That’s not because the manufacturers are trying to make a ton of money. It’s because the game’s development requires a lot of research and testing. Any game developed with the use of brain scans will be powerful, but expensive to build.
For that reason, our final list won’t include them. Instead, we’re focusing on one type of game that shares many of the traits of other scientifically developed games: puzzles, rewards, and an overall plot to drive the story forward.
Seek and Find Games: Free ADHD Therapy
If you’re not into gaming, you won’t recognize the term. ‘Seek and Find’ or ‘HOG’ (for Hidden Object Game) is a type of video game that requires the player to solve puzzles, find hidden objects, and explore the game’s world to advance the plot.
1. Puzzles and Exploration Advance the Plot
Seek and find games do not use violence to drive the story forward. If you want to beat the game, you need to figure something out –decode a message, or find a hidden object, or solve a gatekeeper’s riddle.
Each successful problem solved is rewarded with more complex gameplay and story advancement. If focus, concentration, and finishing a task are rewarded, the game makes good ADHD therapy.
2. There’s an Overall Plot, Advanced by Puzzles and Exploration
Yes, this sounds like #1 reversed, but it’s really just the other side of the coin. It’s not enough to have puzzles – you need a plot that provides a reward for solving those puzzles. (Otherwise, you could just play endless rounds of solitaire.)
A good therapy game needs both short- and long-term goals, and rewards for finishing both.
3. The Gameplay is Open-Ended
Consider Pac-Man – there’s a clear goal (eat all the pellets), a clear set of levels, and clear time constraints. You can’t just wander off the screen and explore the surrounding countryside.
The game is certainly addicting – even more so to ADHD minds – but that doesn’t mean it’s good therapy.
Seek and Find games typically have open-ended worlds – you can wander off, explore unseen areas, and sometimes talk to characters. If you want the plot to advance, you’ll have to do certain things, but many times you won’t even know what those things are unless you explore.
With Pac-Man, the goal is right in front of you the whole time. Seek and Find games often require you to find the goal (in gaming parlance, this is linear vs. nonlinear gameplay). That little bit can make a world of difference for an ADHD mind.
There you have it – an overall plot, driven by puzzles, with open-ended gameplay.
Now let’s have a look at some of the best available options.
Top 10 Seek and Find Games for ADHD Minds
Please understand, list is nowhere near complete.
There are hundreds of different Seek and Find games out there on multiple platforms and with multiple price tags. We decided to include games that met a few important categories: one, they had to be free or quite cheap, and two, they had to be available on multiple platforms.
The reasons should be clear – parents of ADHD kids have enough expenses without shelling out $400 for a new gaming system. As for the second, there’s no telling what any parent has available for gameplay.
Every single one of the games below can be played on an Apple or Android smartphone. We’d do you no good if we listed off great games that can’t be played by half the country.
Our rating system gives each game between 1 and 5 out of 5 stars, based on both the criteria above and on the game’s entertainment and therapeutic value.
One more thing to note – many Seek and Find games focus on mythological creatures, witchcraft, or dark themes. It’s easier to make complicated puzzles with that kind of rich source material, but it also means that some of these aren’t suitable for younger gamers. Check age recommendations before you buy.
With that, welcome to the Top Ten.
1. Seekers Notes
We begin with Seekers Notes for one reason – it’s the best introduction to seek and find games you’ll ever get. The puzzles aren’t too difficult, the scenery is gorgeous, the play is non-linear, and the story arc pulls you in and keeps you focused. This is the best beginner’s ADHD therapy game we found.
Without giving too much away, you have a magic map to a cursed town, and must go exploring. It’s not as frightening as it sounds, and appropriate for all ages.
We give Seekers Notes 4 out of 5 stars.
2. Lost Lands
This long-running series has four installments, each with its own set of unique puzzles and a story line that expands from the previous game. The puzzles themselves are difficult enough to require occasional help from the game itself. If your ADHD child is good with riddles, codes, and brain teasers, any game in this series will do.
Themes of witchcraft, spells, elves, and wizardry are prevalent here, so if your child is quite young, this may not be the best choice.
The backstory behind Lost Lands expands with each game, which gives this seek and find series an edge when it comes to holding people’s attention. Each installment is excellent ADHD therapy.
Lost Lands gets 5 of 5 stars.
3. The Room One, Two, and Three
- PICK-UP-AND-PLAY DESIGN - Easy to begin yet hard to put down, enjoy a unique mix of intriguing puzzles with a simple...
- EXPANDED LOCATIONS - Lose yourself in a variety of stunning new environments, each spanning multiple areas.
These games hit all three of our requirements for good ADHD training – puzzles, plot, and non-linear gameplay. They’re fantastic, addicting, and gamers absolutely love them.
In The Room, you’re following a set of clues pulled from letters from an eccentric scientist. The puzzles are hard, but not impossible, and looking for the clues to each is a joy in itself. Every little detail in these games advances the plot, from the graphics to the quasi-frightening music. This game is guaranteed to pull both neurotypical and ADHD minds right in.
We give The Room series 5 of 5 stars.
4. True Fear: Forsaken Souls
Before we begin, this game is somewhat terrifying. You’ve been warned.
That said, True Fear, while a horror story, is full of excellent puzzles that require you to be extremely thorough in your exploration of the world of the game. Scared or not, you won’t make it to the end unless you can focus and think.
ADHD minds, if they can stand the fright, will need patience, concentration, and silence to make it to the end of the game. It’s a worthy therapy tool, and worth a look if you have a teenager.
True Fear gets 5 of 5 stars.
5. Time Gap: Hidden Objects
This game has two advantages over most – it’s free, and it’s appropriate for all ages.
It also hits on all three of our ADHD therapy requirements – gameplay is non-linear, and puzzles and plot overlap to reinforce each other.
The plot is simple enough. You awake one morning to discover that all of mankind is missing – all of mankind except, of course, key persons in world history, who have mysteriously appeared to help you solve the mystery. You’ll chat with Cleopatra, practice elocution with Einstein, and follow other famous figures until the mystery is solved.
Accessibility and educational value gets Time Gap 4 of 5 stars.
6. Grim Tales
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This series has a number of sequels, made by the biggest seek and find game creator around – Big Fish, whose game library easily tops thousands of titles. Each Grim Tales installment looks frightening, but they’re still suitable for all ages.
The puzzles here are on par with most of our advanced selections, but it’s the story arc that really makes this series shine. Each installment focuses on the family Grey, and characters you meet in one installment will return to greet you later. If your ADHD child has trouble focusing on random tasks, the backstory of Grim Tales might well pull him or her in for each separate game.
We gave Grim Tales 4 of 5 stars in large part because of its backstory. There are no less than 15 Grim Tales installments, and the lowest rating we saw for any of them was 3/5 stars. If you get hooked on one, you’re guaranteed to enjoy the rest, which makes this game a very safe bet for an ADHD mind.
7. Eventide: Slavic Fable
This game contains two of the three requirements for good ADHD training – lots of puzzles and an overall plot driven by the puzzles. It’s not as open-ended as some of the other games, which is to say the game is very specific about which puzzles need to be solved, and when.
By all accounts, though, gamers love it.
The game itself takes place in a world where humans and mythical creatures live side by side, but you’re not likely to recognize many of them. The Slavic myths from which the game gets inspiration are old European myths, and you’ll probably find many of their creatures entirely new.
The gameplay is gorgeous, and worth a look. Eventide gets 4 of 5 stars.
8. Hidden Folks
Fans of this game compare it to Where’s Waldo, and one minute of play shows you why – each level requires you to find certain people within complex line drawings. That description really doesn’t do the game justice, however. The reviews are clear – people find it soothing, hilarious, and wildly entertaining.
This game only hits one of our three requirements for an ideal therapy game – puzzles, yes, but no overall plot or non-linear gameplay. What it lacks there, however, it makes up in demanded patience. You have to have patience to play this game, but far from being frustrating, it almost forces the discipline out of you.
Make sure to download the latest version, as this game was known to freeze in its early stages.
Hidden Folks gets 4 of 5 stars.
9. Total War
- New Real-time 3D Naval Warfare. Players control single ships or vast fleets with fully destructible sails as well as...
- All-new Game Engine. With a newly created Windows XP-compatible DirectX 9 graphics engine, players will experience...
Like many on this list, Total War has several installments and sequels of itself. As a strategy and educational game, it’s in a seek and find class all its own. You’ll have to deal with the day to day of ancient warfare, from provisioning soldiers to protecting your flanks. In some versions, you’ll have to fight many of the great battles of history, and either alter that history or prove yourself inferior to history’s great generals.
Total War is far more strategic than violent, so parents don’t have to worry about desensitization. Its ability to cover all three of our therapy points is highly dependent on the gamer’s knowledge of history, however. This game works best only if you’re already interested in ancient warfare.
As a gaming experience, Total War is top-notch, but for therapy, we give Total War 3 of 5 stars.
10. CSI: Hidden Crimes
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Don’t judge this game by the cheesy cover graphics – seek and find gamers love this series, whether or not they’re a fan of the show. You get to run your own crime lab, accumulate rewards and medals, and solve more and more complex cases with harder and harder clues.
CSI’s puzzles are fantastic, but there’s no overall plot that drives you to finish, except for the desire to solve each case. If your ADHD child is interested in detective work, this is absolutely a game to get. If he or she needs a big plot to drive the action forward, you might need a pass.
CSI: Hidden Crimes gets 3 of 5 stars.
How Do I Get the Best Therapy out of Gaming?
Any game that meets our criteria is going to be good therapy for ADHD minds – provided, of course, that it’s not the only therapy.
Make sure your child takes his or her medicine, gets a good night’s sleep, and eats a strong breakfast. Follow the instructions of your pediatrician and ADHD coach.
And, of course, play some seek and find games during downtime. It’s the easiest, most restful therapy there is.