Thoughts from Games for Health 2011: Sensors, Opportunity, Scale

May 23, 2011, 6:19 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

Here are a few of my initial ideas from the 2011 Games for Health Conference, put on by Ben Sawyer and Beth Bryant:

1. The sensors are coming, the sensors are coming.  Sensors and the software to collect and analyze the data are on the verge of becoming retail products.  Green Goose is one company hoping to grab this market.  What does it mean for health games?  It means that soon we will be able to turn lots of things into data collection and data input devices.  So think about games that use household objects instead of, say, a wii remote.  You could turn your house into the playing field for a game.

2. Better seeds and more fertile ground.  The quality of health games—the game mechanics, the theory underlying design is getting better.  At the same time, the context in which we can use games to improve health is expanding.  We can now embed games in social networks, so think about linking someone’s facebook friends in with their game efforts to lose weight or manage their diabetes.

3. There’s likely more than one way for a game that has an impact at scale.  When we got into this space at RWJF, we were thinking about games as therapeutic interventions for individuals—one person with one game addressing one condition that a lot of individuals have.  But building off item 2 above, given what Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler are showing with their research on transmission of health behaviors through social networks, you could design a health game that requires social networks—teams—to play.  Still another level up is a game that could target a health problem that was a function of a system problem.  That is, a game that targeted a health problem that resulted not from someone’s genetics, but from set of processes and systems that are outside of any one individual’s control.  Imagine a game that’s designed to get some producers to make healthier food.