The final day of SXSW Interactive (SXSW Film is still going on and SXSW Music is just getting started) was jam-packed with fascinating panels, including an afternoon session on the use of games in modifying health behaviors.
“Games are engagement engines,” said Michael Fergusson CEO of the Vancouver-based Ayogo Games Inc in a session entitled “Let’s Play, Motivate Health Behavior Using Games.”
Although the first image when we think of gaming may be a 14 year old boy sitting in front of the TV blowing up aliens, in fact, games are anything but trivial.
In our world of healthcare, they can take a specific set of health goals and put them in a context that make them a social project with friends, a hook for social status and part of a larger system. They can “recontextualize” a desired behavior and make learning it fun.
Fergusson provided several examples of games being used successfully to change health behaviors, including SisterMatch which leverages the fact that 40 percent of online gamers are women. SisterMatch lets women with diabetes earn quilt blocks by participating in knowledge tests and personality quizzes that become part of the Community Quilt. A matchmaking algorithm then delivers each Sister with her best “SisterMatch” to create a peer support group with which they can become friends and exchange information in a fun way.
As marketing communications experts, an additional benefit of gaming is that considerable data can be collected to help better understand the interests and needs of patients to help tailor services and communications.
The game JellyFish, currently in demo, is designed to help kids regulate their heartbeats. A child who needs a low heartbeat for surgery is rewarded by the game for doing so, while another child who needs to keep a higher heart rate to increase physical fitness also can benefit from the game. The game, solo or multiplayer, allows players to compete against each other to be the biggest jellyfish with their individual heart rates (a viewable part of the aquatic environment).
Gaming also has been shown to improve compliance with complex drugs and, coincidentally, FastCompany recently published a story on a smart inhaler that makes treating asthma into a video game. The Wall Street Journal reporter Lora Kolodny, who moderated the panel, mentioned several more game technologies being used in healthcare.
Noreen Kamal, a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia, presented some of her research on Human-Computer Interaction focused on health. She said that after an extensive review of a ton of theoretical models for health behavior change, she had arrived at a simple framework relevant to both social networks and gaming. The model is built on three concepts Appeal, Belonging and Commitment. These three elements should help govern design guidelines around online gaming for health.
For those who want to know more, the book “A Theory of Fun” breaks down the mechanics of gaming, looking at discovery, sharing and the mechanics of skill-based games.
“Ultimately as we learn more about the effectiveness of this, the goal is to use social engagement and games to motivate behavior and then get them off the game,” Fergusson said.
Although the Interactive part of SXSW is ending, we’ll have two more posts in the coming days wrapping up a bit more of what we saw and heard this week. But first, some rest…