Connecting the worlds of video games and health: How I got to know this movement

I have been a gamer all my life. I started gaming before I knew how a computer worked because my older brother whom I bothered for attention a lot, invited me to his gaming sessions (his way of giving me attention). At the time I was about five and would cry desperately because “oxygen” was running out on my character, giving my mom a couple of scares as well as my brother, when he saw his Amstrad computer wasn’t working because I had inserted one of my Candy cards in it to try to play a game. So, many years and games have passed, and when I was working for Blizzard Entertainment as a nurse it occurred to me that why not make health games. The idea came as I was writing advice on the intranet and I thought “this would be so much easier to understand and apply if it was a game” and it got me thinking. When I got home that day I did some research and found that the same idea had struck other people and it had been growing. The first game I remember finding was ReMission from Hopelab, a very cool game to explain children and teens how cancer works and how to take care of themselves better.

I thought it was a great initiative and it opens a door for treatment, understanding and even psychological help. That’s when I thought “hey, this can actually be something to do in my future!” so I looked for a master’s degree that seemed to suit what I wanted to pursue and discovered another type of Health Games through my thesis called Exergaming. My thesis used an inflatable slide with a video game projection where kids had to slide to play the game, which required a certain amount of movement and speed depending on the level of difficulty you played. I believe these games can be a great asset for rehabilitation as many require a set of very repetitive and otherwise boring exercises. Also because games make you more engaged in your task, have a goal that is reachable as it can be adjusted to the user level and has a “funny fail” that makes you laugh when you lose, it can be applied to any age range and not only kids.

Another main point that arose to me in favour of Health Games was that as a nurse I know that one of the biggest concern we have nowadays with chronic diseases is the lack of adhesion to treatment and I believe games can help a lot as we find in them the perfect combination for engagement. Various labs and researchers all over the world are dedicating their time on creating and learning how to make Games for Health more effective and I think we will be finding more uses for them in healthcare.

Currently I’m reading an author which I discovered while doing research in Health Games who was one of the pioneers of another movement called Serious Games from which you could say that is sort of the mother of all games that have another main “good” purpose other than to have fun (because they are fun, they are still games). Reality is Broken from Jane McGonigal gives many good tips to understand how games are created to be engaging and attract masses, from a designer/researcher point of view. I’ll give you the website so you can get to know Jane McGonigal and also I recommend you to watch her TED talk: http://realityisbroken.org/

I’ll write another post introducing more Games for Health with more game examples and why they are or aren’t good. To finish I’ll leave you with some interesting links:

http://www.healthgamesresearch.org/

http://www.healthgamers.com/

http://www.exergamefitness.com/

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