Posting from TED: Health, Design and Game-Changers

Feb 7, 2009, 1:10 AM, Posted by Susan Promislo

Sorry for the lapse in TED posting…never have I seen an event program as packed as this.  It’s made getting back to the hotel a challenge, and throw in some tenuous wireless connections…well, you get the point.  But here’s a recap of RWJF’s luncheon at TED, held Thursday. 

We had a packed room of 60 TEDsters--including the creators of and, heads of design schools, the president of user experience design firm Adaptive Path (developer of the Charmr, from an earlier Emily Culbertson post), execs from venture capital and game development firms, David Pogue (technology columnist for the New York Times and one of my favorite writers) and the founder of DNA Direct (a genetic testing and management company)—with about 30 who lined up to attend, but unfortunately we couldn’t accommodate due to space limitations.

Pam Omidyar, founder of HopeLab gave a great recap of the inspiration behind and clinical outcomes linked to Re-Mission, the video game developed for kids battling cancer.  There were cheers when she showed the results, which demonstrated that kids who played the game had higher levels of treatment adherence and more knowledge about their disease ,and were more empowered to fight back.  She showed amazing MRI imagery that showed players’ brains on Re-Mission.  Areas tied to emotional processing lit up, which was key to internalizing the lessons underlying the challenge and excitement of the first-person shooter game.  We were honored to have Taylor Carol and his dad, Jim, with us – Taylor is now in full remission from leukemia, played the game during his six months in the hospital, and is the star of our promise story on Re-Mission. 

John Maeda, president of RISD, outlined distinctions in mission and change vision between designers and artists, and called on more designers to apply their skills, thinking, creativity and ingenuity to save the world.  Having given some of the more popular TED Talks in years past, he provoked the group to think differently about the potential of this space.

The group then turned to the game jam, led by Ben Sawyer and game designers Noah Falstein and Larry Holland.  The crowd first decided to tackle the issues of chronic disease, and then refined the challenge further to focus on actions and behaviors.  Some of the ideas they proposed that seemed promising to the game developers included:

  • Addressing metabolic syndrome, using a game approach to help navigate the different associated conditions and co-morbidities, trade-offs among treatments, and patients’ abilities to manage aspects of their condition.
  • Developing a realistic, action-based approach to the immunization debate that can inform decisions around vaccine safety.
  • A game focused on how to manage depression…when asked why that intrigued them, the developers replied, “Because it seems hard.”  
  • Helping patients better navigate health care systems and services.

Noah and Larry continued to work through these possibilities in to the evening on Thursday and all day Friday.  The results of their concept development will be unveiled at our TED Lab exhibit space this morning.

We’re grateful to Pam, John, Ben, Larry and Noah for joining us and shining a spotlight on the potential for games to spark big change in health and health care.  I think people came away with a sense for that potential to touch people’s lives and help them pursue health goals and make informed decisions in uniquely powerful ways. 

Ben and his team are going to see where these ideas may go from here, so let us hear your input on how this exploration can lead to the next breakthrough health game.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.