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#GFH12 Update: Health Games Research Database Adds Powerful Online Search Features

Jun 13, 2012, 11:15 PM, Posted by Debra Lieberman

Each year at the Games for Health Conference, I am excited to see how the field continues to grow. An important way our Robert Wood Johnson Foundation national program, Health Games Research, helps move the field forward is to ensure that our colleagues – game developers, health care providers, researchers, funding agencies, investors, policy-makers, parents, educators, and more – have access to the information and resources they need.

We are pleased to announce at this year’s conference that our Health Games Research online searchable database has been updated with new search and save features that make it easier to use and a more powerful search tool. The Health Games Research Database is the largest publicly available repository of information about health games, with extensive information about games, publications, resources, organizations, and events.

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Gaming the Field

Jun 12, 2012, 8:30 AM, Posted by Ben Sawyer

Ben Sawyer Ben Sawyer

Today starts the eighth annual Games for Health Conference - a big week for those in the health games field. For three days (June 12-14) game designers and developers, researchers, medical professionals, educators, entrepreneurs, and policy-makers will come together in Boston, Mass., to discuss and share information about the impact games and game technologies can have on health and health care.

Founded in 2004 with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio, the Games for Health Project exists to make large breakthroughs. Initially that just meant increasing belief in the notion that games could result in healthy outcomes. We tried to build a greater sense that games could improve health, and then integrate others into the fold, resulting in the emergence of new work in this field. With this in mind, I thought I’d take a moment to look back on how far we’ve come in the past few years and reflect on where we need to go.

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Pioneer's Commitment to Health Games Profiled in New Games for Health Journal

Mar 12, 2012, 10:00 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

I recently had the good fortune of sitting down with Bill Ferguson to discuss the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s pivotal role in health games research for the inaugural issue of the Games for Health Journal. In our talk, I detailed the Foundation’s early investment in the field, the challenges to advancing health games and some grantee findings to date.

Thinking about our conversation, I’m struck by how far the field has come since the early days of our health games support in 2004. Back then, there wasn’t much intersection between the games space and the health space, but Pioneer saw potential. So we worked with Ben Sawyer (@BenSawyer) of Digitalmill to do some community building within the gaming industry around health interests and funded the first-ever Games for Health Conference.   

Now, with seven conferences behind us and the eighth scheduled for June 12-14, 2012, in Boston, Pioneer can proudly claim we helped create and sustain a way for the games and health communities to come together. But we didn’t stop there.

Pioneer expanded its support to the Health Games Research national program, directed by Debra Lieberman at UC Santa Barbara (who is featured in a roundtable discussion of health games experts in the Journal), where we are seeing our 21 grantees test some fascinating ways health games can be optimally designed. They're exploring game features such as competition, collaboration, social comparison, social support, nurturing of characters, immersion in fictional worlds and alternate realities, interacting with a human-like robots to motivate exercise, using a mobile phone game as a substitute for a cigarette, and much more. And there’s more to come.

Health Games Research's work to identify a broad range of features that make for effective health games will help to further expand the creative horizons of future developers. Well-designed and well-implemented games can motivate and support prevention, lifestyle behavior change, and self-management of chronic conditions, and Pioneer is proud to be part of this work. We are excited to see a journal devoted to the research, development, and clinical application of games and health.

Check out the inaugural issue and read about the work of Pioneer’s grantees and others in this important field on the Pioneer Health Games homepage. Tell @pioneerrwjf or @gamesresearch what you think.

Health Games Research Profiled by Inside Healthcare IT

Feb 17, 2012, 12:26 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

The Pioneer Portfolio is committed to supporting trailblazers who are changing the way we think about health and health care.  Debra Lieberman, PhD, director of Health Games Research, a national program of Pioneer and headquartered at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is breaking ground by using health games to transform the way prevention, self-care, and health care are practiced.

The February 9 issue of Inside Healthcare IT profiles Lieberman’s research on how video games can be used to improve players’ health behaviors and health outcomes, and thereby reduce the cost of care.  After two decades of research on games that improve health behaviors in areas such as smoking prevention, diabetes self-management and asthma self-management, she has found that some games can have a dramatic impact on health.

“Video games can change people in fundamental ways that can lead to better health behaviors,” Lieberman said in the article. “Well-designed games can change people’s perceived risk for experiencing serious health problems, their sense of self-efficacy, or self-confidence, that they can carry out specific health behaviors successfully, and their perceptions of social norms. These and many other changes in people’s attitudes, emotions, understanding, and skills can tip the balance toward behavior change. While games can be fun and can teach health facts, they can do a great deal more to motivate and support better health.”

Check out the article to learn more about Lieberman’s research on health games and tell @pioneerrwjf or @gamesresearch what you think on Twitter.

'Exergames' Can Improve Cognitive Function in Older Adults

Jan 26, 2012, 2:35 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

We all hear about the benefits of physical activity beyond weight management. According to the Centers for Disease Control, exercise helps to improve your ability to do daily activities, mental health and mood. This is especially important later in life to improve cognitive function protecting against the onset of dementia. However, as the CDC estimates, only 14 percent of adults aged 65 to 74 years and 7 percent of those over 75 years exercise regularly.

Health Games Research grantee Dr. Cay Anderson-Hanley and her fellow researchers from the Healthy Aging and Neuropsychology Lab at Union College, New York set, out to find new interventions motivating older adults to exercise and promote good brain health.  They tested the impact of virtual reality-enhanced exercise, or exergames, that combine pedaling a stationary bike with an interactive video game compared to traditional exercise. Researchers evaluated participants’ executive cognitive function such as their ability to multi-task, problem-solve, and working memory and attention.

What they found was that adults ages 58 to 99 who participated in ‘cybercycling’ two to three times a week for three months had significantly better executive functioning than those using a traditional stationary bike.  This is the first study to quantitatively evaluate the benefits of exergames. 

You can also check more about the research featured in The Atlantic’s “Study of the Day,” CNN’s The Chart Blog, and The Los Angeles Times Booster Shot Blog.

To learn more, see the article in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, or check out Pioneer’s national program Health Games Research to see what they are doing to explore ways to advance the research, design, and effectiveness of digital games and game technologies that promote health.