Archive for May, 2011

What do videogames have to do with Parkinson’s disease? Quite a lot, actually. According to recent research, active video games like Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit and others can help increase strength, cardiovascular fitness, confidence and mental awareness, and decrease reaction time in subjects who train with them. Why are these areas particularly important? They’re the main risk factors for falling—which is primarily what people with Parkinson’s die from. When I interviewed Dr. Adam Noah, Technical Director of the ADAMCenter and MoCap (motion capture) lab at Long Island University, he had this to say:

One of the major things is falling down can cause a cascade of events, which really ultimately can lead to death… they fall down, they break their hip, complications add up, and that’s eventually what puts them in a home. And if you can reduce the risk of falling, you can actually prolong somebody’s life.”

By training subjects on DDR, his group discovered improvement in all the risk factors, which should reduce the number of falls they have.

In related news, California-based Red Hill Studios was awarded two NIH grants (totaling $1.1 million) to develop and test videogames for treating Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy. In a joint press release from Red Hill Studios and the UCSF School of Nursing, here’s what Bob Hone, Red Hill Studios’ creative director, said about the grants:

These two grants are the start of what may become a massive new area of health care. The emergence of low-cost motion sensing technologies has created an entirely new type of rehabilitation: physical therapy games. As a baby-boomer with a bad back, I know firsthand that physical therapy can be boring and tedious. These games will help make rehab fun and productive.”

There’s a concept for you: fun and productive rehab. If either of these two groups demonstrate even half of what their research promises, they will have proven beyond a doubt that videogames can change, and even save, lives.

Check out the ADAMCenter here

… and Red Hill Studios here.

Read the complete Red Hill Studios press release here.

Learn more about the serious games initiative here

… and Games For Health here.

Well, G4H ’11 is over, and it was fantastic. In the two years since I last attended, the games for health arena has exploded. People are really pushing the boundaries of videogames and game tech, and are developing some innovative and mind-blowing ways of dealing with a wide range of issues around mental and physical health, training, rehab and education—effectively, efficiently and at a much lower cost than traditional means.

Consider healthcare worker training: Traditional methods involve real-world simulations (and trainers to run them), mannequins and/or live actors playing the parts of sick patients or accident victims. This type of training is expensive, time-intensive, and limited in reach—it can only accommodate a handful of trainees each day, at most. However, build the whole scenario into a VR simulation, deploy it either locally or across the Internet, and you have a platform to reach a virtually unlimited number of participants. Start-up and initial development represent the bulk of the expense (though still less than purchasing the equipment and running a single real-world training); once built, maintenance costs are minimal. And trainees can run the simulation on their own, whenever is convenient for them, freeing up personnel (no need for actors or trainers) and putting them back on the floor where they’re most needed. From a practical standpoint, VR also allows you to build simulations for a wide range of situations—from routine patient assessment to triaging victims after a catastrophic event—tornado or hurricane strike, earthquake, explosion or attack, or, for those training as battlefield medics, military engagement. Anything that can be imagined can be built, deployed and run—over and over—safely, efficiently and effectively.

Similarly, videogame technology allows you to develop and deploy on-the-job training simulations for a variety of fields—particularly useful for hazardous occupations, where mistakes can be costly and even life-threatening. VR sims allow people to safely make mistakes (and even experiment with “what if” questions), review the results, explore what went wrong and how to correct it, and re-run the scenario if necessary—all for a fraction of the cost and time needed to run a real-world training.

The relatively low cost of these VR simulations also means that critical training can reach under-served areas all over the globe—areas that can’t afford more expensive, traditional training methods. Are the VR sims as effective as real-world tools? No one’s really sure. But they’re clearly better than doing nothing. Check out this article for a case in point.

For a taste of how games are being used to train healthcare professionals, check out SimQuest and Virtual Heroes.

Crohn’s disease and depression are two dissimilar illnesses that are linked by common threads: they are isolating, debilitating and highly misunderstood—and researchers are looking into the ability of videogames to address both of them.

The Pediatric IBD Foundation is building a game to educate children and parents about Crohn’s disease, to help alleviate children’s feelings of shame and isolation, and to give them a sense of empowerment and control. I got a sneak peak at the game during day one of G4H, and it looks beautiful. The idea is that you travel in a sub throughout the GI tract, battling aspects of the disease on three scale levels (pill size, cellular and molecular). As part of the gameplay, children will learn more about what’s happening inside their bodies, how to manage and/or reduce symptoms and how to get the most out of their treatments.

Elude screenshot, MIT GAMBIT lab

Regarding depression, Doris Rusch and interns at the MIT GAMBIT lab (in conjunction with Dr. Atilla Ceranoglu) designed a game to help friends and loved ones of someone suffering from depression better understand what s/he is going through. The game, called Elude, is very dark, frustrating at times, and not always in the player’s control—all by design, as this mimics the feelings of people battling depression. Early trials have shown success in helping others appreciate their loved ones’ struggles with this disease.

More info on the Pediatric IBD Foundation is here.

You can play Elude through the MIT GAMBIT site here.

Two great conversations that grew out of yesterday’s Games For Health pre-conference sessions. The first was with Dr. Atilla Ceranoglu, a psychotherapist with Mass General Hospital. In his work with children, he uses videogames to gain insight into a child’s behavior and the emotional or psychological issues that may be going on (based on how s/he plays a game). There’s nothing new here; therapists have been using play as a window into psychology from the beginning. He’s just adopted videogames as a new tool for investigation—one that’s integrated into the lives of the kids he treats. We spoke about the differences between games, sims and virtual worlds, and whether they’re all actually games. Conclusion: whether or not something is a game depends entirely on the user’s perspective, and not on the medium of play.

I also spoke with Jerry Heneghan of Virtual Heroes/ARA. Virtual Heroes creates training sims for military medics, first responders, physicians, EMTs, paramedics and other public safety personnel. They build scenarios that put trainees into the aftermath of catastrophic events—tornado strikes, terrorist attacks, combat operations, earthquakes, major accidents. The trainees then have to find and triage the victims—making sure that they tag them correctly. Players learn to quickly and effectively evaluate victims, and also what happens when they tag someone incorrectly.

You can find more about Dr. Ceranoglu here.

And you’ll find Virtual Heroes here.

Gearing up for Games For Health ’11 in Boston, tomorrow through Thursday. Of particular interest are several sessions addressing the effects of active videogames on people with Parkinson’s disease or acquired brain injury. For some time now, researchers have been delving into the ability of games like Wii Sports to treat neurological disorders and injuries. Among the presenters at G4H are Red Hill Studios and the ADAMCenter. Red Hill Studios (who received funding for a clinical trial from the NIH) and the School of Nursing at UCal San Francisco are developing games to treat Parkinson’s. The ADAMCenter is a research and teaching lab at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus, focusing on human movement. Researchers there are looking at off-the-shelf games (Dance Dance Revolution, in particular) for neurological rehabilitation.

Learn more about Red Hill Studios here

… and the ADAMCenter here.

For more info about the G4H schedule, click here.

Interesting article reported on Science Daily’s website (see link below). In order to encourage children with cystic fibrosis to regularly perform exercises that help them clear their airways (called “huffing”), researchers designed games the kids could control with their breath. In one example, players drove a car by breathing into a special controller. According to Dr. Peter M. Bingham, the study’s lead author,

The medical goal of the games was to increase breathing maneuvers that respiratory therapists believe can help keep the airways of cystic fibrosis patients clearer.”

Children are more likely to do the exercises while playing a videogame, and this can ultimately help keep them healthier. Researchers also found that the kids’ ability to take a deep breath (“vital capacity,” in the lexicon of cystic fibrosis) improved significantly after playing the games.

Dr. Bingham is presenting some of his findings at next week’s Games For Health conference in Boston. His talk is on Wednesday, 5/18. You can read the session summary here.

Read the full article here.

Safe sex, clinical depression, PTSD, knee replacement rehab, Parkinson’s, acquired brain injury, nutrition, weight loss, diabetes, Cystic Fibrosis, nightmares, cancer, dancing, HIV, emergency response. What do these have in common? They’re all subjects of videogames, and are all featured topics at the seventh annual Games For Health conference in Boston next week.

The Games For Health conference is one of the largest gatherings of researchers, medical professionals and game developers interested in learning about and shaping the impact that videogames have on health and health care. For three days (5/16-5/19), several hundred people will hear how videogames and game technology are being used across a variety of disciplines—neuroscience, healthcare, defense, game development, pediatric medicine, and behavioral health among them. There are games for things like weight loss, smoking cessation, disease management, and pandemic preparedness, and game technology has been adapted to help soldiers recover from traumatic stress, train paramedics in emergency response, and speed up post-injury rehabilitation.

For more information about Games For Health, follow this link:

About Games For Health

And be sure to preview the conference schedule here:

G4H ’11 schedule

Check back here throughout the week, as I’ll be posting updates from the conference.