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Original Xbox Download  2004 Games For Health Conference...um, yeah..you heard right. Original Xbox Downloads

2004 Games For Health Conference...um, yeah..you heard right.

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Politicians whine, parents worry, game retailers question content – is there no end to the skepticism that the world has for the most successful entertainment medium? Quite frankly I’m sick of it.

Being sick of it isn’t enough though. Published essays and gamer testimonials do little to ward off the backlash of crap we’ve had to put up with. I remember hearing rumors that Bob Dole would crack down on video games if he became president. I know it might have been nothing more than a rumor, but even so – don’t we have more important things to worry about in this world?

You might not know it, but there is hope underneath all the chaos. Numerous industry professionals are working together on the Games For Health Conference, a conference that explores all of the different ways that games can benefit us.

Did you know that future games could reduce the cost of healthcare? Yep, it’s true. Games also have the potential to influence the way people do their jobs, thus opening the door for increased productivity.

Currently games are doing many wonderful things. They help us lose weight (Dance Dance Revolution). They help us use our brains (ICO anyone?). They even help surgeons warm up before surgery!

Wanting to know more about the benefits of playing games (and whether or not the stress of playing Metal Slug 3 can cause hair loss), I had a lengthy conversation with an old friend and fellow hardcore gamer, Ben Sawyer. Ben is the author of Monster Gaming, and is now a part of this exciting conference.

Games For Health Conference 2004 – what is it, who is it for?

Ben Sawyer: This is the first gathering of people who are interested in ways games, game developers, and game technologies can help improve all aspects of healthcare, from actual hands on care, to health education, to management, to analysis, and more.

It's for people who are interested in the subject because they are either developers of such projects or consumers/users of such products. It's also for those researching healthcare, and for those within the healthcare sector who are curious about the entire thing.

How did the conference get started?

BS: The conference got started after we had built a specific listserv for games for health that splintered off the original serious games list. The Serious Games Initiative had seen some interest in health care applications and we felt that there were a lot of specifics to this area that warranted its own sub community so we did that for about six months and it went ok. Some good conversation got going so we wanted to take it to another level and a conference is a great way to do that.

The University of Wisconsin has a growing group of researchers working on game stuff so I contacted them to see if they'd be interested in hosting something. They were, and we wanted to do this, and they liked it so together, with Judy Brown (who runs the ADL Co-Lab at UW) we began planning it.

What was the original serious games list?

BS: It's a discussion listserv of about 400 developers, consultants, educators, and government people looking at non-entertainment applications of games. It's probably the largest community of its kind. It's our chief organizing tool on the Serious Games Initiative.

For our readers who are unaware, what is the Serious Games Initiative?

BS: The Serious Games Initiative was founded at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C. The goal of the initiative is to help usher in a new series of policy education, exploration, and management tools utilizing state of the art computer game designs, technologies, and development skills.

As part of that goal the Serious Games Initiative also plays a greater role in helping to organize and accelerate the adoption of computer games for a variety of challenges facing the world today.

The Serious Games Initiative is focused on uses for games in exploring management and leadership challenges facing the public sector. Part of its overall charter is to help forge productive links between the electronic game industry and projects involving the use of games in education, training, health, and public policy

When did you become involved with Games For Health?

BS: It started in October of 2003. The Initiative had held some meetings on the subject and we just felt it was a good first place to branch out beyond the general work we were doing in community building and policy games. Healthcare is a huge sector with a lot of problems and an affinity for new technologies. We felt it was thus a good place to launch our first spin-off

In what ways have games been found to be healthy for people to play?

BS: Good question. Let me break this into two parts.

The first part of your question is why are games potentially healthy? The way I'd answer that a lot of games are packed with a lot of cognitive activity. And keeping ones minds sharp means exercising it a bit. So on a most general logical level cognitive exercise would be the best first answer. Beyond that I think we can develop games that can contribute to health in a variety of ways.

That isn't to say that all games are ostensibly “healthy,” they're not engineered to be health education titles, and they're not necessarily forcing you to physically exercise. Although you could say that's changing with things like Dance Dance Revolution, and EyeToy and with Yourself! Fitness (a game coming out for Xbox that is specific to exercise).

Now the second part of your question I already began to answer, which is that we can build games, or game technologies to specifically contribute to your health. For example, if I build a game that trains managers to run hospitals better, that might lower the cost and raise the quality of care in your community. If I build a game which teaches people how to do critical first aide then maybe that motivates people to become certified in first aide.

As a final example, if we take some great artists and 3D programmers from the industry and create a better visualization engine for medical imaging maybe we can lower the cost of that software.

These are all examples of what we can do.

Those are examples of what you can do – but what is currently being done? Anything? Or is this all speculative in hope of a better future?

BS: There is a lot being done actually. Not all of it is ready for primetime but let me walk you through some of the work I know of:

VRPhobia.com is a group of therapists using video game technology to lower the cost and ease of treating people with key phobias such as fear of heights, driving, and spiders. They have research which shows this VR and Game approach works really well because it is easier for people who have those fears to work with the games vs. other methods of therapy.

The European Media Lab is experimenting with 3D game worlds to create new environments for children and child psychologists to interact in Legacy Interactive has developed a game to help teach medical professionals advanced cardiovascular life support skills.

Dr. James Rosser at Beth Israel Medical Center in NY is using games like Silent Scope and Super Monkey Ball as warm-up exercises before laparoscopic surgeons begin operating. The early results show this to be highly beneficial to their work.

The Health Media Lab developed Hungry Red Planet to teach kids good nutrition habits so those are some of the actual projects in action today.

We will be featuring all of these at our conference.

Regarding a healthy side effect to playing a game, what's the most surprising or most impressive discovery that has been made?

BS: So far I think what I've been most amazed about is how much activity there is. Every week I'm learning about new ideas, or projects. Just the other week I got a call from a researcher looking at creating some games to test motor and situational reaction times in people who've had certain types of mental injuries. He was thinking of a driving game idea but then I steered him toward EyeToy which might be a better model. So what I think my own personal discovery has been is just how wide open the area is.

On a more specific level what I really thought was cool was VRPhobia, and Rosser's work on surgical warm-ups because both elements use commercial off-the-shelf products, and not casual ones either.

We're talking Unreal, Midtown Madness, Max Payne, Silent Scope, and Super Monkey Ball.

Silent Scope? Super Monkey Ball? How exactly are those games helping people?

BS: Well, I haven't had a chance to review the actual study, but I talked with Rosser (the Dr. who did the study) for quite a bit. Here's how it works. Laparoscopic surgery is where they use very fine tools on the end of high-end tinsel style wires that they can run up and into your body through small incisions they make. The surgery is done via a small fiber optic camera they put inside you as well. The ends of the devices are like space age joystick guns they use. It's very wild stuff if you've ever seen it, and it's very video game like. So what they did was start looking to see if there were any off-the-shelf video games that could be great warm-up tools.

The screened over 100 games, and ended up with Silent Scope and Super Monkey Ball which, [as you’ll know] if you've played them, require very steady balancing-like movements with the controllers. So they mapped really well, and Super Monkey Ball did even better because it's a very cross-gender game. (I.e., men and women enjoyed it equally.)

The results were that if surgeons warmed up mentally and hand-eye coordination-wise with these games it was like an athlete who road a bike before going into the game. The blood's flowing, the visual thinking is there, and the results are better surgical outcomes.

Wow, very impressive.

You commented on Dance Dance Revolution, which has supposedly helped many gamers get into better shape. Have any studies been conducted to measure how helpful the game really is?

BS: Yes actually. There is a sports medicine and child pediatric exercise researcher (Vish Unnithan) at Syracuse University who has done some early studies of the results and they're pretty promising.

I was just talking with him today and his next step is a bigger and wider study to see more. But he was very encouraging. It's not that DDR is the penultimate form of exercise, it's that DDR is an engaging method that many kids want to play and enjoy getting better at. There is a goal beyond losing weight.

In your opinion what are the healthiest games to play?

BS: Well, it depends on what you define as health.

If you're talking physical health then clearly this new wave of games emphasizing physical activity like DDR, and Yourself! Fitness, plus the EyeToy seem to be leading the way.

But if you're talking mental exercise then I think a lot of games offer good opportunities.

Could you be more specific? Which games provide a good mental exercise?

BS: I think lots of games can do that. It's probably something I need to research more and see what types of mental exercise are useful for people. So what I will say speaks only from my own personal unscientific feelings...

I'd say games that require you to think through various logic puzzles and strategies are good. Certainly games like Tetris, Bejewelled are also good in that vein.

I actually like WarioWare too because there is something to be said for the way that game forces you to first assess the situation before you can even play it right that makes it like a brain teaser of sorts.

But I'm getting ahead of myself in terms of specifics. I will certainly be investigating this deeper with our conference and project.

I once heard an expert say that it's good to watch scary movies because it makes your heart race, which pumps your blood and is thus a healthy activity. Assuming that's true, is the tension received while playing a survival/horror game actually good for you?

BS: I don't know. I think that would require some serious research. I think maybe if we were in the horror movies and we had to run away from all the killers that would certainly be healthy for us. The fat kid always dies - don't forget that. ;)

How big of an impact have video games had on health care and health care policy?

BS: Not much. We're early in the game (pun not intended) here. Admin Note: Trust me...NONE TAKEN!!

I think if you look at technology in general though then clearly it has had a big impact. And games are a bleeding edge technology that we're just beginning to understand. So in the end I think the impact will be significant by being an extension of that.

Perhaps the biggest impact so far is probably SimHealth, a game produced by John Hiles, and ThinkingTools with Maxis back in 1993, which simulated various ideas behind the plethora of healthcare plans being talked about then. It sold over 35,000 copies, and it was a useful public information product for a lot of people.

Ultimately though healthcare reform imploded politically. It was such a big fight that I doubt much of that was due to SimHealth but even today when we talk about games, policy, and healthcare to people they remember SimHealth

Have you considered writing a book about all of this?

BS: Actually I am thinking of putting together a book on Serious Games for 2005. I want to learn more first before I write something.

The books [that have been] done so far have focused more on the could be done, and what has been done. I'm thinking along the lines of a how-to book.

For now there are some books by Marc Prensky and Clark Aldrich that speak to some of this.

You can find them by going to Amazon. My goal would be to be different and build upon some of the stuff they've put out there.

Well, I think that's all the Qs I have, but before I let you go, is there anything else you want to share with our readers? Any wise words on health, gaming, or how to keep the manager from kicking you out of the all-you-can-eat buffet?

BS: [There are] a few things.

1. Games for Health is about applying games to all aspects of healthcare. Many of our applications will be in derivative areas that trickle down to affect your healthcare positively. So don't think of it as 100 games that you play and become this pinnacle of mental and physical health. :)

2. The current fads of pointing out how games are leading to bad health habits is missing the point. Parenting, good personal exercise habits, etc. are the keys to maintaining your health. Games have a role to play here and I think with the recent round of games that are looking to branch into more physical forms we've found some cool stuff to experiment with.

3. Many areas we work in may be more mental. It's still hard for the world to understand what mental health is, or how it's treated, or how we accept it. I think that may be a big area.

People need to appreciate also that we're just learning about all of this. For as promising as Games for Health sounds - we have a lot of work to do to research, learn, and experiment with the models where we'll learn how to integrate games into the world of health just as we have books, lectures, training software, film, and more.

4. I'd also like to thank the Academic ADL Co-Lab and the Federation of American Scientists (www.fas.org) for helping support this conference. They are instrumental partners into making this more then just a gathering but a real launching pad to further work, a bona-fide research agenda, and more.

Thank you Ben for such an interesting interview. I’m sure your comments will help many young players in the case against parents who say that gaming is a waste of time.

For more information on the Games For Health Conference, visit:



Source: GameZone Online
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