Imagine your right hand got banged up in an accident. Say, you got too friendly with a hammer. The doctor says it’s nothing serious, but, you have to wear a cast for a month. Then, you have to rehabilitate lest it becomes a shrunken and emaciated version of your left hand. She writes you a prescription … to play a modded Street Fighter X Tekken for ten weeks.
You might be thinking, ‘Where do I get a doctor like that?’ At least that’s what I said when I saw the prescription pad mockup. This is one of the concepts put forth by Games For Health, an organization working to bring the video game and health industries together to provide a new kind of therapy to the infirm.
Games For Health has been promoting serious gaming applications in the health industry since 2004. Such a marriage of industries has spawned IP like ReMission by Hope Lab. The game follows Roxxi, a nanobot sent into the human body to battle cancer cells. Along the way players will learn about specific illnesses like Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This third person shooter aims for patients to internalize the information in a more fun way, under the assumption that they will adhere to their treatment better. That’s right, an educational game.
Organizations like Games For Health and Hope Lab are focused on how games can function as training, an engine for nutrition, as physical therapy, etc. While this all amounts to a noble purpose, it is also a hot button issue for many gamers because it involves gamification.
As with any other argument, there are two sides to gamification. One side, best articulated by proponents like Jane McGonigal (Games For Change, Social Chocolate), believes that turning aspects of life into a game can help make serious, positive changes in society. ReMission is a mild example at best, influencing patients to stick with their treatment through education. Better known examples involve turning real life situations into games, i.e. creating a point system around eating the right foods to promote healthy behavior.
The other side of the argument can be articulated by the likes of Chris Hecker (Spy Party). This side posits that games for their own sake is enough, that the industry has yet to scratch the surface of what games can do. Why try to turn life into a game when there’s still so much that needs to be done with the current medium? How lax are we as a society that you need a point system or badge system to be a responsible person? That’s where Get Well Gamers comes in.
This latter organization recognizes that playing videogames can be just as therapeutic as traditional therapy. This is why, since 2001, Get Well Gamers has been delivering donated games and systems to hospitals throughout North America. More than 10 million children have benefited from their services.
They also cite other statistics — such as how children who game are less anxious before an operation, they call on nurses less while in recovery and generally have shorter hospital stays. If you have an old, unused console sitting around, Get Well Gamers is always accepting donations, an arguably worthy alternative to getting gouged by resellers.
So here we find several organizations on opposite ends on the gamification spectrum. Despite their differing approaches, patients win with real health points through video games. This is just something to think about the next time you’re sick and someone is telling you to stop playing and get some rest.