Health Games: A step forward in Healthcare

For many years now we hear that video games can be used to learn basic concepts in an enjoyable manner, however with the new MMORPG (Massive-Multiplayer-Online-Rol-Playing-Game) this should be replaced by “video games can be used to learn complex concepts in an enjoyable manner”. I’ll explain why.

I started playing an online video game called World of Warcraft or WoW around 2005. Even though I had a played a bunch of games before, it was my first MMO experience. I made an elf druid because my brother told me it could turn into a cat, and I love cats. I couldn’t begin to imagine that in two months time I would use concepts like “DPS, aggro, tanking, debuff”, know all my spells and talents. This learning potential from our part and the capacity of the game to help us learn, fascinates me. At the end of the game things get harder: huge monsters to defeat in groups of 25 organised people, each with a role (healing, doing damage or receiving damage), watching out for the monster’s abilities, the group has to split and run around during the fight, plus managing a perfect spell rotation.

Millions of people got to the same point of concept learning I did in this game. This was possible because the game is really thought through for people to feel comfortable moving forward, making the player feel every challenging situation is achievable. At level 1 you have one or two spells and a quest. When you have levelled enough the game considers you know how to use your spell and it gives you a new one. The fact that’s an online game helps too because you always have someone to group with for more challenging quests or just to ask for directions if you are lost looking for a certain monster. I remember when I got in a group to fight in a dungeon (place where you go in groups of five and each player has a role) and one of my group mates asked me about my talents in order to define my role. I didn’t know what he was talking about, and this stranger took the time to explain me that talents are a way to define your role, where to find them and that I had them available from level 10 (if you play nowadays the games points this out to you, but the game changed a lot since 2005). Anyone can be a level 17 in about 3 weeks, at level 25 the player knows which role it fulfils, its spells – how and when to use them, control their mana (its used when you cast a spell), control their life bar, on top of having an idea of the other group mates spells. Clearly some complex concepts that need to be used all at the same time in a positive stressful situation.

HEALTH GAMES

There are many health games out there, I separated them in two main groups, video games and flash games. The majority of this last ones are question/answer type of game or memory. I’ve tried several of these and besides being boring, in the end you just answer whatever you memorised depending on the question asked. Also, there are many that seem to have great influence from the companies that finance them, with information that’s not all correct or just outdated. That can also be because the people who made them weren’t healthcare professionals.

Video games for health is small and growing group compared to the amount of flash games there are, but some interesting options arise that connect the spirit to be in search of the epic and being a hero like in WoW, with learning how to live with a chronic illness. A good example is The Magi and the Sleeping Star, a video game in which you are a hero with magical powers and a mission to save the world, but to do so you need to control the amount of sugar in your blood. When the sugar level is ideal, your magical powers are buffed. For more information about how this mechanic works, follow the link: http://www.themagigame.net/gameplaydemo.html
I like how this game implements the diabetes insulin topic, is original and at the same time it makes sense, but its thought to get the player to constantly think about sugar levels and insulin with almost not noticing it, because he is in the middle of an epic fight. This is very positive because in the end, is a chronic illness we are talking about here. Put it this way: going up a set of stairs that it’s uneven in width; you know how to climb stairs instinctively but the fact that they have an added difficulty makes you concentrated in the task to maintain your speed. Chronic patients should be able to carry on their lives normally but learn to concentrate and decide in a given situation.

HOW CAN THIS BE HELPFUL IN HEALTHCARE?

In a game like World of Warcraft complex concepts can be learnt in a really shot time-frame. The best part of it is that not only you understand those concepts, you are able to manage them to improve your spells, mana, life and take decisions under pressure (in a fight).

Online games are great because they form a community, and in a Health Game the community can offer a lot to the patient and the family, sharing experiences or simply hanging out together among people with the same condition, helping each other learn, understand and improve quality of life.

The nurse is the main guide for education and follow-up for a patient with a chronic disease (at least in Spain). It isn’t real to think it’s enough with those 10-15 minutes that we can offer this patients once a week/month, in which we try to explain everything we can, bombarding the patient with information and flyers. After two days 70% of the information we give will be forgotten. Flyers can be helpful but usually the quantity of words in it is inversely proportional to what will be read. The patient tries to manage their illness from instructions and explanations he tries to remember in each meal, pills time, etc. That’s why I think video games are a great option that would fill an important gap.

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