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Health Games – When video games become part of therapy


Video games are played for various reasons, while the main reason surely is entertainment. Playing video games is fun, it relaxes us, takes us to adventures and into new worlds. Meanwhile, video games are accepted as a cultural good and are utilized also for serious issues.

Serious Gaming – testing and improving skills

Serious Gaming describes the use of video games or video game elements for serious purposes like education or virtual training. In the field of medicine Serious Games help trainee surgeons to prepare for imminent surgeries, or in the field of architecture to test the structural design of an object – always in a playful way with a specific goal: to test and improve the skills of the player. Health Games are part of Serious Games and aim to support health. There are already many titles on the market that could be a replacement for fitness courses. All games that encourage physical activities can be assigned to this category.

With 3D shooter against cancer cells

Health Games are often used in therapy, for example for young cancer patients – primarily for educational work and the playful revision of the cancerous disease and its treatment. Re-Mission and Re-Mission 2 are the first Health Games by HopeLab from the USA, in which ill patients have the opportunity to defeat the cancer cells virtually. Together with main character Roxxi jellyfish-like cancer cells are pulverized within the blood vessels – in 3D shooter-style. While playing, constant positive feedback is delivered to the player with the message ‘YOU CAN DO IT!’. An efficacy study of the Stanford University documented the effects: Thanks to Re-Mission, kids and teenagers are more participative and motivated for their chemotherapy and take their medicine more frequently. Furthermore, the knowledge about the illness increased.

Supplement to physiotherapy

Health Games are also researched for degenerative cerebellar ataxia (over 5,000 patients diagnosed in Germany). This form of ataxia is incurable and disrupts the coordination and interplay of movement patterns. In the course of sickness, ill persons are bound to the wheelchair at some point or even bedridden. The Hertie Institute in Tübingen (Germany), which does research in this area, concluded that intensive coordination exercises in combination with physiotherapeutically exercises can mitigate the course of sickness significantly. Health Games are used successfully to motivate children and teenager for more physical activities in a playful way. Health Games are a welcome addition to coordinative physiotherapies.

Finance is the biggest challenge

So, why aren’t there more Health Games? The biggest challenge is financing the development. Since the games are specially designed to meet the demand of the therapy, it isn’t only the pure development that is required, but also fundamental research of the therapy approaches and subsequent scientific support. Currently German insurance companies do not support the development of these games and also do not participate in the patients’ costs of acquisition. For many institutions and facilities Health Games are still unknown. However, the existing Health Games have demonstrated how video games can be an effective addition and an important motivator for therapies – and thus have a promising future.

image: Re-Mission 2