• Gamification
  • Sea Hero Quest helps dementia research

    Computer games are both fun and serious. Sea Hero Quest has both. It’s a spatial game on smartphones that collects global data about dementia. It’s claimed that data from 100,000 players each playing for two minutes could provide the volume of data from 50 years of laboratory research.

    It was developed by a team of scientists from University College London, the University of East Anglia and Alzheimer's Research UK. They built it round a character on a mission to find sea creatures his ageing father discovered when he was a sailor. 

    The challenges mainly involving navigating a ship to predetermined areas and encountering difficulties finding a way around familiar places. It mimics early signs of dementia. The game tracks players’ progress and the direction they’re facing. Elementary questions pop up during the journey. All the data collected’s anonymised and stored securely.

    The research objective’s to learn how well men and women perform at different ages and different places in the world. Data provides trends on dementia’s progress as a disease.

    User’s from landlocked African countries needed by daunted by a lack of seafaring experiences. The games objective’s to search, not to sail. It would valuable to have an African sub-set of the data by country.

  • What's gamification's future in healthcare?

    Games are fun. They have serious benefits too. The concept of using games to improve healthcare outcomes isn’t new. Although its been part of most health tech conferences the world over, it never seems to take central stage. At a late-day session at HIMSS16, Amanda Havard, Chief Innovation Officer at Health: ELT and Charlie Schroder, a digital strategist and consultant, talked about what’s holding the space back and how health stakeholders can launch gamified apps that really work, says an article in MobiHealthNews

    They cite several examples of healthcare gamification efforts with powerful effects. One game, from 1997, was designed to help children manage diabetes and led to a 77% reduction in urgent care visits. In another, people were motivated to exercise after virtual exercise in a game with an avatar that looked like them.  

    Havard and Schroder asked why such positive data hasn’t lead to broader adoption. “There are a lot of question marks over therapy that’s a digital tool — Where does that fall? Who needs to say that’s ok? Is there liability attached to that?” said Havard. “I tend to think that the unknown aspect here is what’s really keeping this from blowing up. If you think about what would happen if you had a drug that posted these kinds of numbers, that’s great, but that’s because there’s already a concrete vetting process of how you do a clinical trial, how you evaluate a drug.” 

    Havard had several suggestions for healthcare stakeholders looking to make gamified apps and health games work in the real world. The key theme was the importance of taking games seriously.  “You need executive buy-in,” she said. “Obviously every organization is different, but you need the people far enough to the top to understand what you’re trying to achieve with better health outcomes. Think ‘We have decided to start analyzing our populations in such a way that we can give them targeted health initiatives, and this is how we’re going to do it, we’re going to see it through.” 

    She said it’s vital to recognise the diversity in populations and build apps with specific groups in mind. “You have to have clearly defined goals in terms of clinical outcomes and clearly defined patients. You don’t have to reach every member via a gamified app, via a mobile platform, via a game, today, tomorrow, or whenever you roll it out. Figure out what your pain points are, what the golden outcomes are, and go from there.” 

    These are valuable insights. Healthcare organisations, app developers and startups developing and implementing healthcare games apps need to keep these in mind to build relative and effective apps. Is gamification an underused innovation in Africa’s health systems? It could be a bigger part of mHealth.

  • Brushing teeth's a game

    Tooth decay is the second most common disease. Cold is first. Paul Varga from University College London (UCL) can’t do much about colds, but he can help fight tooth decay. He told the Royal Society of Medicine’s Spring Innovation Summit 2015 about PlayBrush, his initiative with his colleagues to improve children’s dental health.

    About 30% of children under five have tooth decay. PlayBrush turns brushing into a computer game. As it measures brushing times, locations and effectiveness, a device in the brush connects through Bluetooth to a simple game on an iPad. Brushers are the game controllers. Children are the players. The result is brushing teeth is fun.

    Average brushing time’s less than a minute. With PlayBrush, 91% of users brush for two minutes. This achievement leads on to collecting individual’s data that dentists can use to frame bespoke advice for their patients.

    Two themes emerge from PlayBrush. One is, how can it roll out on a global scale? The other is, how can gamification help with many other health initiatives?

  • It's eHealth, Jim, but not as we know it

    Computer games are seemingly ubiquitous for some generations. It may be about to expand across age groups. A study in Nature shows that some video games can enhance cognitive control and multi-tasking in healthy people over 60. Dr Gazzarley, who works at Gazzarley Laboratories, a cognitive neuroscience research facility at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), studies the neural mechanisms of memory, attention and perception, how these processes change with childhood development, normal aging and dementia, and finding ways to intervene therapeutically to alleviate cognitive deficits.

    His team has found a way to use a video game designed to improve cognitive control to reverse some of the negative effects of aging on the brain. The findings are important for two reasons. One is the benefits for people over 60. The other is that UCSF reports that the research team says the study provides scientific support for brain fitness that has been criticized for lacking evidence.

    Multitasking ability diminishes rapidly over adult lifespans. Researchers call this “multitasking cost.” After training for a month on NeuroRacer, a 3-D video game developed by the UCSF researchers, they found significant improvements in study’s 60 year-old plus participants.  A chart in UCSF article shows the improvement as up by almost 60 percentage points after a month, and nearly 60 percentage points after six months, though on different parts of the curves.

    It seems that not all games have this effect, so there is no excuse for teenagers to lock themselves in their bedrooms for even longer, claiming they are putting off aging. They could be deferring their education.

  • Health, fun and computer games fit together

    Fun and games are both good for health. This applies to computer games too, that may be less mindless than some people think.

    Games for Health thinks computer games have a lot to offer health. It lists a range of computer games that aim to help people with a range of health issues from children’s healthy eating to improving cancer treatment. Many of the games are from Healthcare Social Media owned by Sympler, a Canadian company.

    The concept underpinning these is gamification, a term coined by Nick Pelling, a UK computer programmer. It uses game techniques, mechanics and dynamics as a psychological tool to realise people’s will for achievement. Next time you see young people hectically manipulating their thumbs on a smart phone, they may not be the mindless endeavours you thought they might be.

    It could be just another example of how social media is transforming many aspects of our lives. And who knows, some of these health gamers may be from the older generation who have become silver nerds, a future that might await us all.