Five Questions from Games for Health

Jun 16, 2009, 12:39 PM, Posted by

After a few good nights’ sleep, I think I’ve finally started to process some of the intriguing concepts I took in at 2009 Games for Health. Newbie that I am, rather than offer my own rudimentary take on what’s happening out there, I want to use this post to just pass along a few nuggets that really made my ears perk up and pose some questions. I’m eager to become more involved in this space, so I’d love to hear any thoughts or nagging questions that other participants or observers took away from this conference. Thanks again to everyone who took a couple of minutes to talk with me last week, and please help me keep the conversation going!

  • Steve Brown, CEO of 3Banana, posed the following as the fundamental design challenge of health games: “Games are for fun and health issues are an unwanted intrusion into our lives.” That could be interpreted as: because games are fun, they are more likely to compel certain people to deal with health issues; or as because games should be fun, people may consider the incorporation of health issues as an intrusion. How can the industry strike the right balance between former and the latter?
  • Tim Chang of Northwest Venture Partners, speaking to a standing room only crowd, offered the VC’s perspective on short- and long-term opportunities for health games: “If a product does not tap into one of the seven deadly sins, it will not succeed.” Is this good advice for developers and other stakeholders? Why or why not?
  • At the second morning plenary, an investor with a strong interest in cognitive games described a recent family retreat where a centerpiece of the entertainment was a Wii Fit. At one point 14 folks were playing together – including an 80-something who was particularly into it. So clearly, exergaming is heating up on many fronts. What other areas of health games may soon be ripe for the mainstream? What internal/external developments must unfold for this to happen?     
  • At one point, there was reportedly a queue out to the door for the “accessibility suite,” where vendors were demonstrating products that allow people suffering different levels of paralysis to play health games. The devices were incredibly cool, but what really got me thinking was a video clip of an interview posing one question to game developers: "Have you ever thought about disabled people who play games?" Undeniably many have given thought to this question, but as you can see from "The One Question Interview" on the Able Gamers website, it seems many also have not. How would you rate the health games world on the accessibility question on a scale of 1 to 10, and what do you think are some of the key barriers and opportunities?

Finally, in addition to being my first real exposure to this field, Games for Health provided me my first opportunity to live tweet from a major event – and I was obviously far from alone. Since last Thursday there have been a combined close to 450 tweets from more than 100 people with the #gamesforhealth and #g4h09 tags – and the numbers keep growing. To find out what really has people talking, check out the streams yourself.

Well that’s it for now. More tidbits/questions to come… 

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.