Games for Health

By Skiba, Diane J. | Nursing Education Perspectives, July/August 2008 | Go to article overview
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Games for Health

Skiba, Diane J., Nursing Education Perspectives

GAMES AS A PEDAGOGICAL PLATFORM was the focus of this column in the May/June 2008 issue of NURSING EDUCATION PERSPECTIVES. Since that publication, I became aware of two major events that served as a catalyst for continued research into gaming. The first event was the Games for Health International Conference held in Baltimore, Maryland, May 8 to 9. The second event was the award of $2 million to 12 research teams that are investigating how video games can motivate healthy behaviors. Both events highlighted the growing popularity of games as a mechanism for learning about health and engaging in activities that promote healthy behaviors, not only in academic setting but also for consumers, both young and old.

But first, let's start with a newly created Taxonomy of Serious Gaming. Serious games is a term used to describe "games that are driven by educational goals, not entertainment" (1). Ben Sawyer and Peter Smith developed their taxonomy for several reasons: to dismiss the myths around serious gaming; to have common definitions; to assess the current state of the art of gaming; to identify gaps; and to create a foundation for future efforts (2). In one of their taxonomy tables, they list columns that show types of games (health, advergames, training, education, sciences and research, production, and games as work), and they list rows that describe users (governmental and nongovernmental organizations, defense, health care, marketing and communication, education, corporate and industry). An excerpt from their health care area is shown in the Table. Now that we can appreciate the scope of serious games, let's delve deeper into the world of games for health.

Games for Health Three major trends emerged at the recent 2008 Games for Health Conference (3): 1) the increased used of games for therapy and rehabilitation, 2) the use of games in gyms and other settings to promote physical activity, and 3) the greater involvement in gaming of corporations and health care providers. We will examine these trends and highlight some of the newest games presented at the conference. To view slides from the conference, visit

Over the last few years, there has been an increased use of games for therapy and rehabilitation. Early pioneering efforts in this area include the work of the Starlight Starbright Foundation, whose goal is to create a variety of games to help children and families cope with their fears of serious illness and their feelings of isolation and pain. Information about the wealth of games available on the Starlight website and the multiple studies that have been conducted to examine the impact of gaming is available at

Another example of video games as therapy is a product called Ditto, now being used at the Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane, Australia. This is a multimodal distraction device used as a handheld game to distract children from pain and anxiety while they undergo invasive medical interventions. A prototype is being studied with young burn victims. This devise is particularly targeted to younger children, who may not be able use the virtual reality games used by adolescents and adults, to distract them from the pain of medical treatments. To learn more, check out the following blog: /g4h-2008-serious-games-divert-kids.html.

A new and exciting game created by Enrik Hautop Lund, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Southern Denmark, uses robotic therapy tiles. According to Sandhana, "Patients recovering from surgery or injuries may soon be able to physically play their way to a full recovery with intelligent robotic systems that generate specialized games to challenge the human body's abilities" (4). Lund's research team has tested the use of therapy tiles with cardiac patients, lung patients, people with sports injuries, autistic children, and mentally handicapped children.

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