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Games for Health Fourth Annual Conference 2008 will be held from May 8 – May 9 in Baltimore MD. The Serious Games Initiative, a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, is the force behind this project. The goal is to spark the impact of games and game technologies on healthcare and policy.

There’s always buzz about Health 2.0, Web 2.0, Web 3.0 etc, but in my opinion, the next big thing will be Medutainment. Can you see a bunch of healthcare professionals discussing during lunch, the latest clinical trials for a drug x or rather that “cool medical game” they just played or the new XBOX game that is helping pediatric patients with disorders cope with their condition?


marble-blast-ultra-20051221062258837.jpgTo the numerous list of health innovations the Wii can do, we add in improving surgery performance by 50%.

The BBC reports that researchers at the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center studied eight surgeon trainees who trained for an hour on a Wii before performing 50% better on a virtual surgery simulator. Their scores excelled in the areas of tool control and overall performance as compared to those who did not.

The game in question is called Marble Mania, which involves moving a marble through a 3D maze.

To be fair, the researchers should pit these “Wii-surgeons” against those who meditate, visualize, pray, or perform hand exercise before surgery.

In any case, the researchers claim that the fine movement of a ball through a maze are complementary to skills which would help a surgeon in surgery.  They also suggested that perhaps spending $250 for a surgery prep device is a great alternative for poorer countries to train their surgeons as compared to buying an expensive surgery virtual simulator.

Read more on: Health Games, Medutainment, Tech

Covered in this post:

  • Wii: The Utlimate ExerGaming Tool against obesity
  • A “Wii” smile from a cerebral palsy pediatric patient
  • Improving ‘Elderly’ health with the Wii
  • Wii used in rehabilitation

wiiguy.pngWii: The Ultimate Gamercise Tool against obesity

The Wii may be considered the ultimate gamercise console on the market. A programmer, Mickey Delorenzo, hypothesized that he would be able to lose weight if he played the Wii for at least 30 minutes a day. In six weeks, he was able to lose six pounds and has signed a book deal titled “Wii Fitness.” He has also teamed up with Traineo to create a Wii workout group. Users may now choose “Playing the Wii,” as a fitness activity. Traineo will in turn, motivate you to reach your goal, tools to track your progress, along with charts and graphs.

Another interesting piece of information is a study conducted at John Moores University in Liverpool found that regular use of the Wii could help users lose 27lbs a year. The study compared the use of the Wii against other console games where users are usually seated. Participants were five girls and seven boys, aged 13-15, and measured the impact of playing an inactive and active console for 15 minutes [Videogamer]. Compared to the Wii, other game consoles increased energy expenditures were only 60% compared to the Wii’s 156% above resting. Heart rates were greater with Wii use (130 beats/minute) compared to (85 beats/minute) and the findings are that on average, using the Wii results in 40% more calories burned. [BBC]

The study was conducted by Professor Tim Cable at the John Moores University.

A “Wii” smile from a cerebral palsy pediatric patient


This photo is from Matt Clark’s Flickr photostream. Matt’s little brother Stephen, was born with cerebral palsy and is unable to walk or talk. However, with help from the Wii, Stephen is able to play video games with his little sister. [Kotaku]

wiilady.jpgImproving ‘Elderly’ health with the Wii
The Wii is reaching all ages. Telegraph reports that elderly residents from the retirement home Sunrise Living Center in Edgbastron are taking turns to play the Wii. The residents are between the ages 80 and 103 years old. The most popular game being played there: bowling.

One preventative measure or suggestions to those with osteoporosis is more movement so that joints do not become stiff from inactivity. Walking is often suggested for this, perhaps the Wii is a good alternative. Even though there have not been any clinical studies on the benefits of the Wii on the elderly, anything that encourages older adults to increase their physically activity level and stimulate their mental acuity is a good thing.

[Attention Pharma companies! It would be great PR for you to donate a Wii to all the long term care homes out there!]

Wii used in Rehabilitation
CBCNews wrote an interesting article on a patient who, upon admittance into Glenrose Rehabilitation Center, is now on his feet, through the use of the Wii as a rehabilitation tool. The “gamer”, Albert Liaw, was a boxer who was knocked out of the ring and suffered brain damage. Don Simoneau, his physical therapist comments, “”It was very motivating. We could have him do therapy for an hour and he wouldn’t mind one bit. Now when I see him playing today it’s incredible to think back to where he was.”

Areas that Wii game developers need to address
Through use, we find that the Wii has been used for more than just entertainment. Its use has made a tremendous impact on different types of patients ailments, mental as well as physical impairment. However, here are some problems:

wiistrap.jpgThe Wii Mote is not suitable for users with limited movement
Muscular Dystrophy is a genetic neuromuscular disorder that gradually weakens the body’s muscles thereby limiting the user’s range of motion. Games such as bowling, baseball, golf require arms to swing at a wide angle. Those with Muscular Dystrophy or older users with severe arthritis in their upper body, have a limited range of motion. Because of this, they are unable to play several Wii games. A letter written by a muscular dystrophy gamer may be found here.

My suggestion is that Wii devleopers create either a sensitivity control setting in the Options menu or create an alternative Wii Mote that is more sensitive to this population of people who are finding renewed life through its use.

Why not create games playable for blind or visually impaired individuals?
In 1999, a japanese video game company called Warp created an audio game for blind gamers. The game was called “Real Sound: Kaze no Riglet” and was created by Warp’s president, Kenji Eno for the Sega Saturn and DreamCast [Audiogames]. The Wii should further explore the possibilities of developing audio games that may be fun for both blind as well as non-blind individuals. Video games development does not need to be inclusive or special for “blind” people…make it mainstream.

audiodyssey.jpgRelated: Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab are developing AudiOdyssey (PC Game) for the blind or visually-impaired with the option of incorporating the Wii Mote into the game as an optional controller, using bluetooth to connect it to the PC. Players would swing the Wii Mote to correlate with the player’s music rhythm.

Incentives for Nintendo
Nintendo may be wondering why they should change their games for a “small population.” But how much does it cost to keep in mind the other potential users while building games? It’ll increase your user base and create positive PR.

Given the boom of “Health 2.0” lately, Nintendo needs to create social-networking communities that emphasize the healthcare benefits associated playing with the Wii. While there are Wii fitness communities, they are mostly centered around the weight management population.

Make playing games good for your health… if anything, give kids an extra excuse as to why their parents should get them a Wii for Christmas.

Description of video above: Paraplegic patient navigates through a virtual world using a brain-computer interface with 90% accuracy.

paraple.jpgTwo teams that met at a European consortium called PRESCENCCIA are teaming up to create a virtual world where users may navigate through a virtual environment using their mind. The team from Graz University of Technology in Austria, specializes in measuring signals from the brain through electrodes. The other team, from the University of College London (UCL), UK builds virtual reality worlds [NewScientistTech].

In a recent study, users guided an avatar (virtual reality figure) through a virtual environment using direct thought. EEG recordings were recorded as the users imagined moving his legs and arms. The readings were then linked to visuals presented on the computer monitor. 75%-90% of users in the virtual reality world were able to use thoughts associated with movement to walk an avatar through the environment while waving to other virtual characters.

This research may prove to be a means for patients with severe neuromuscular disorders to communicate as well as provide a possible tool as rehabilitation for stroke patients. Perhaps one day this technology may link patients to “exo-skeletons” and allow them to perform regular tasks through direct thoughts.

There are always news about games being bad for your health or that games spark poor behavior, but a new approach to the use of games in hospitals is changing that view. HOPE, which stands for Hospital-based Online Pediatric Education, is a project headed by Dr. Arun Mathews, M.D. at Johns Hopkins University. HOPE uses XBOX games to create an inter-gaming hospital network for pediatric patients to bond with each other by meeting, playing games, and relating to one another.

“By kindling the spirit of adventure, sports, and community building, HOPE seeks to allow children with various ailments to understand that they are not alone, and that they possess heroic potential.”


PCGamer’s HOPE coverage

rocologoforsite.gifInspire Foundation has developed a game called Reach Out Central! (ROC), that “promotes positive youth mental health by adapting content from effective psychological intervention.” The game provides an interactive environment for those ages 16-25 years to identify and deal with depression, anger, and anxiety. According to Inspire, 1 in 5 young people experience some sort of mental health problem yet only 29% seek clinical help, most often turning to the internet for support. The foundation hopes that ROC will help these young people to deal with their mental problems.

The game is fairly easy to play. In a snapshot, you are in a new town and must make new friends by learning to communicate with characters in the game. Initiating conversation with another computer character will stimulate a short chat that provides you with a list of possible responses. After the conversation, you can check the game character’s bio and their “affinity rating” with you during the contact. In addition, you may participate in activities that would either increase or decrease you stress level. Think of the game as a “Choose your adventure book,” but in this case, it’s a “Choose your emotion” game.

ROC puts a twist to anger or depression management. It allows users to discover the right and wrong ways of dealing with different situations in a safe, comfortable environment. The graphics in the game are amazing, the music makes it seem hip to play, and the game works both in FireFox as well as Internet Explorer.


Figure 1. Picture of a player’s virtual room


Figure 2. Learning to talk to Mom


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[Last modified: 12/08/07]