Add health to games or games to health?

By Chris Gullo
08:13 am

Fruit NinjaThis morning at the Connected Health Symposium, a stirring panel discussion, entitled "Game Mechanics & Psychology: Designing Health & Wellness," was a highlight. The panel featured Catherine Frederico, a registered dietician and adjunct professor at Regis College, and Ben Sawyer, co-founder of the Games for Health Project.

Audience member, Sonny Vu, former chairman of Agamatrix, challenged the panel with what was perhaps the most provocative question of the hour: "Why not just collaborate with a popular non-healthcare game, like Fruit Ninja?" On Twitter, Vu followed up: "My question is why gamify healthcare? Why not healthify blockbuster games [with] tons of players already?"

It's not a bad argument. Go to where the users are already rather than start at square one.

Sawyer, however, believes health-centered games do have their place, and they should leverage the knowledge of mainstream game creators: "What we've learned above all else is to engage experts in the game development field," Sawyer said. "Building a game is like writing music or making a movie... you need experience."

Frederico is also bullish about health-focused games: "What motivates people? What surpises them? It's taking those elements and creating a health game around them," Frederico told the audience. Frederico encouraged attendees not to be afraid of technology, to understand that gaming is becoming more mobile, and that health and fitness sensors will soon be pervasive in this field.

"I've been around [in healthcare] long enough to know things aren't exactly working," she said. "We should explore gaming as a possible solution."
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