Thursday, November 09, 2006

G4H 2006:Serious Games to Improve Patient Hospitalization Experience?

Serious Games challenging us to play a better future


Via: Serious Games Source - Erin Hoffman

At the Making Hospitals Fun session of the 2006 Games for Health conference, Ben Sawyer introduced three presenter groups that discussed their respective ongoing efforts to bring games into hospitals for the entertainment and education of patients that visit them.

First to speak was a student group from Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. Team members Philip Light, Patrick Mittereder, and Fred Gallart, working under mentorship from the ETC program, designed, prototyped, and installed in three participating hospital waiting rooms a touchscreen-based console with minigames and creative activities. Most popular among the activities was an interactive coloring book that allowed kids to create their own pictures and then ‘play’ them through an animation sequence.

Mary White, informatics fellow at Johns Hopkins University, spoke next on the three projects currently underway in her department. The first, in conjunction with the Pediactric Rehabilitation Center in Mt. Washington, north of Baltimore, involved the use of the Sony EyeToy and CatEye Fitness gamebikes connected to PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles. Participants in the program used the game systems to play racing games for physical education.

The second project worked in conjunction with Harriet Lane Clinic in downtown Baltimore, targeting overweight adolescents in the east Baltimore region to provide fitness education that their families might not otherwise be able to afford. Teenagers entered the program on doctor recommendations, and came to the hospital two to three days a week for exercise and nutrition counseling.

White said that the clinic provided a “safe place where they can all come in and not be judged based on their weight.” She noted that the target demographic, teenagers aged 14-18 and 13-19, was harder to reach because of their involvement with school and recreational activities.

“We looked at Dance Dance Revolution to use in the clinical setting as a way to make fitness fun for them,” she said. The games worked because the teens already viewed them in a positive fashion, and, according to White, “despite their socioeconomic status, most of them had video games in their homes.” Dance Dance Revolution thus provided an indoor fitness opportunity for the teens to use at home in a safe setting – a particular concern for kids living in rough neighborhoods.

Lastly, White discussed Project HOPE (Hospital-based Online Pediatric Environment), a project to connect kids who are in isolated sociological situations in the hospital environment. The pilot project involved kids undergoing hemodialysis three to four times a week, three to four hours at a time, prior to transplant surgery. Project HOPE connects kids in the hospital to each other using Xbox consoles and E-rated games – primarily racing, sports, and simulation titles. Kids were able to play with each other over a wireless LAN network, talk to each other, and connect socially, making an otherwise isolated and frightening hospital experience less traumatic. Because of their intense health conditions, White said that the patients often never had a chance to “be kids”, and Project HOPE seeks to return that part of their childhood to them. In the future, they hope to connect kids in different hospitals using Xbox Live.


Following Mary White’s talk, Ryan Sharpe of Get-Well Gamers discussed the problems that his organization faced, as he put it, “keeping hospitals from being fun.” Sharpe cited security issues, including the theft and loss of game hardware; therapy concerns where games potentially could assist in recovery of physical abilities while providing entertainment; and logistical needs that require specialized hardware to enable kids to enjoy games despite prohibitive physical conditions.

Robert Khoo of Child’s Play also spoke in support of Project HOPE and Child’s Play’s efforts to support community-based gameplay. He noted that games break down social barriers, and because the hospital environment can be very frightening, getting kids to feel as though they’re not alone can be extremely comforting. To assist with this, Child’s Play is trying to integrate Nintendo DS systems, as they come equipped with built-in wifi, and are both portable and durable.

Though a smaller session than the larger research-based lectures, “Making Hospitals Fun” showed a dedicated base of researchers, clinicians, and volunteers committed to making hospitals a less traumatic environment for kids. As the movement to place games in hospitals continues to gain momentum, propelled in large part by the generosity of the gaming community, one can hope that in the future medical establishments can provide an environment that is healing to the spirit as well as the body.