A new field is emerging that connects health care with solutions emerging from the videogame industry called Games for Health. Digital interactive games will play a pervasive, powerful role in health and health care. Games are aimed at motivating healthy behavior change, teaching health concepts that resonate, enhancing people’s cognitive health, taking medical training to new levels and empowering patients to manage health information that emanates from and may deal with their specific health needs. Games are even helping people battle key diseases such as obesity, cancer and heart disease.

Entities like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) are demonstrating the efficacy of games as therapeutic interventions. Driven by its grantees and partners – they are exploring whether motion-based games help stroke patients progress faster in physical therapy. Does playing dance pad games collaboratively vs. competitively influence kids’ body mass index levels? Do virtual worlds allow people in substance abuse treatment to practice skills and behaviors that prevent real-world relapses? The foundation looks at how games can help millions of people better understand their health risks and behaviors.

Take Sensormotor Rehabilitation, for instance. Three examples include the use of Microsoft’s Kinect technology in game-based rehab applications; a pilot study researching the effectiveness of Nintendo on post-burn rehab; and gaming as a rehab platform for balance, gait and cognitive intervention for aging populations and people with acquired brain injury.

Similarly research and games are emerging related to nutrition as well as cognitive and  emotional health. Work at East Carolina University is being done related to the efficacy  of casual videogames in reducing clinical depression and anxiety. A company called Kognito is involved in a post traumatic stress disorder training game for families of returning veterans, using emotionally  responsive avatars. Companies like Dakim with its Dakim BrainFitness and others are introducing cognitive stimulation or memory games to target the onslaught of aging boomers.

Another hot area is ‘exergaming’ — games for exercise. With childhood obesity  rates tripling over the  past three decades — the exergaming phenomena takes on new meaning. It enables kids to exercise — even if school physical education programs have been hit by budget cutbacks.

Work is being done in the exergaming category at New Mexico State University, the University of South Florida along with Medplay Technologies. Popular exergames are Ubisoft’s Just Dance, iDance, ExerBike, Jump Zone or Makoto’s Sports Arena. The arena consists of  three vertical towers, each equipped with ten lights. The player listens for the sound, looks for the light and knocks it out. This increases neurological connections, mental and visual sharpness, cognitive and physical ability and reaction time.


Another conference (Sandbox Summit) held at MIT, focused on gaming and kids. Not only is playing fun but it’s also how kids learn. Play teaches kids the skills they need to read, share, create, innovate and become happy, well-adjusted adults. An increasing number of toys are embedded with chips, buttons, and controllers and are changing  the way kids are playing. How can the positive effects  of play and gaming be extended?

It is in the interest of businesses, educators, and consumers — both children and parents — to make sure that how kids are playing today, and the toys that they’re using, provide them with the kind of open-ended experiences that stimulate creativity and foster critical thinking.

While other countries often excel at rote learning and score higher on standardized tests, U.S. kids are good at exploring. This makes them extraordinarily good at innovation. This innovative spirit needs to stay in our schools. Digital technology empowers educational systems to get kids into more interesting textual environments — thereby creating more compelling schools.

“We are at an inflection point in education with the transition from print to digital environments,” according to Karen Cantor, director of the office of educational technology, U.S. Department of Education. “This means new opportunities to design powerful learning environments that are more personalized and learner centered.” For instructors and students alike, there are multiple pathways across multiple devices in a 24/7 broadband world.

She points out that the universe design for learning consists of three key parts: access to content, enabling content to be approached from a variety of ways, and assessment and games that offer real-time feedback. “Games are one big assessment system,” according to Cantor.

We are familiar with the headlines that blame videogames for the ills of society and that videogames promote aggressive, violent or anti-social behavior. Now, academia, foundations, developers and creators are finding new ways to harness the power of play and videogames as a positive force, providing health professionals and consumers new ways to tackle a variety of health and healthcare challenges. Similarily, videogames provide educators  with new pathways to engage, educate and empower students.

We’re just scratching the surface of interactive gaming. Let the games begin! Reach me at Susan@c4trends.com

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