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  • Francisco Guerra

It's time to get serious about games for health!


The first summer school devoted to Serious Games for Health and Sport from the Harvard Medical School, ENTI-UB and EUSES, took place from the 3rd to the 7th of July in Barcelona. I was one of the lucky attendees that learned about implementation, design and evaluation of games applied to health and sports.

Combining the knowledge from Oscar Pañella (Serious Games expert) and Yuri Quintana (Health Informatics expert) resulted in an exciting and insightful course that balanced the magical aspects from game design and the evidence based foundation of scientific evaluation.

Here’s a little of what happened there…

Pic. 1: A picture of our serious games mentors having fun exchanging their 'geek' shirts. It is great to see how coming from such different fields, they have such a great synergy. Partnerships like this one, lead to more action and innovation in healthcare.

What are Serious Games for Health?

“A serious game is an applied game… a game that other than pure entertainment also brings a pedagogical purpose. In what comes to health, the goal is also to create a behaviour change that is sustainable over time.”

They are called serious because they must reach the objective of educating and motivating. They must induce changes in knowledge, attitude and also behaviour (e.g.: weight loss, quitting smoking).

For professionals, there are simulations that help dealing with specific clinical situations or emergencies. E.g.: 3DiTeams, Virtual Pain Manager, Vital Signs: ED and vHealthCare. For patients, there are many applications that help with sticking to treatments, dealing with diseases or promoting a healthy lifestyle. E.g.: mySugr, MangoHealth, Cohero Health and Re-Mission.

Some Take-Away Messages

About designing serious games:

  • No need to know everything when designing a game! Don’t let that idea stop you from starting a project. You don’t need to know how to program, you don’t need to know how to evaluate it, you don’t need to know about graphic design! The creation of serious games involves a multidisciplinary team… You can be the one who creates the idea and presents it to other possible collaborators.

  • There are already tools that make the creation of games easier and achievable to everyone, even if you are short in resources. E.g.: canvas for serious game design – a guide based on user-centred design considerations, sprinkled with some magic powder to boost our imagination throughout the design process.

  • You are not designing a game for you, you are designing for the user. Tip: Repeat this to yourself over and over again! Also, take into account that methodologies centred in the user are a pre-requisite to create technology that is useful.

  • It is inevitable to think about psychological concepts when talking about health behavioural change interventions. You need to take that into consideration when creating effective technology. You need to choose the behavioural model that best fits your case, based on previous evidence, and then extract the strategies that should be incorporated in your system.

About evaluation:

  • Evaluation process is essential for validating technology, it’s a must when talking about health.

  • Make objectives quantifiable! First of all, you need to define the game objectives to establish which should be the indicators, then you need to create a protocol to relate the data to evaluate with those indicators (sometimes systems lack the necessary data to evaluate which reveals to be a problem to validate the technology).

  • The evaluation should be in different stages of the process, to prove that there are both short and long term changes.

  • It’s important to have scientific personnel in the team, they will be essential in these evaluation processes.

Here’s a big message:

Don’t let others make fun of what is naturally FUN, don’t let them bring down your ideas! People are naturally conservative and they don’t like change. Especially when talking about games, it will be hard for people to take you serious. Underline the serious part of serious games and gamification! Do your research, make your arguments strong and even if you don’t have your own results to show, look for evidence from others.

We are talking about something that is studied in scientific literature for more than just a few years…

Pic. 2: Our course kit - the book that Yuri and Oscar just launched on design, strategy and evaluation of Serious Games in Health.

Proposed Quests

During the course, we also had the opportunity to put to test our creative minds… In the first workshop, we were supposed to design a game for a specific health condition making use of a canvas for serious game design. The second workshop was about “re-doing” a game, where we created a new improved version of a popular game and adapted it to a health case of our choice. In the final workshop, Oscar showed us how, with few resources, we could create an entertaining competition:

Quest 1 - creating a meme in 3 mins based on a fictional client’s request; Quest 2 – Creating a poem in 13 mins based on the meme created and using story dices. We also had special quests and random points to spice things up. (I believe we all ended up as the “killers” player type :D).

Overall, it was great to see how our imagination could bring us to places we never thought of before, and all in a matter of seconds.

Pic. 3: Our 1st workshop - learning how to use the canvas for serious games.

I can tell you that throughout this week Oscar and Yuri created an exciting narrative, much like the one you can experience with a serious game – it was entertaining, it was educational, and definitely motivated us to implement this in our projects, workplace and even in our daily lives.

I felt like if I have just ‘powered up’…

Pic. 4: It was not just about learning, it was also about networking and having fun!

It’s Time to Roll the Dice

I’m currently working in the European project CATCH, which focuses on digital health for cancer, and the potential use of gamification is huge. Cancer survivors need to be encouraged to overcome their physical limitations and daily barriers; they need to be motivated to adhere to recommended levels of physical activity; they need to be empowered in such a way that it induces a change of behaviour in regards to their lifestyle. Digital technologies have an opportunity to be accepted and to empower these individuals, but struggle when it comes to engaging the user after a few days or weeks of use. In order to open-up the chances for these technologies to actually have a positive impact, we need to search for strategies to create intrinsic motivation and a feeling of long-term commitment. Here, well implemented gamification might have a word to say!

It’s a chance worth taking, it’s time to roll the dice!

#catchitn #cancer #seriousgames #gamification #gamesforhealth

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© 2016 CATCH. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement 
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