Video game makers join forces with medical experts to design apps for improved well-being
by Gillian Shaw, Vancouver Sun.
Alan Price had a successful career in the video game industry as chief technology officer for EA Games in Canada.
But a desire to create games that would do more than simply entertain, combined with a transformation in his industry that has seen video games shift from consoles to smartphones and social networks, prompted Price join the burgeoning digital health sector where he’s creating wellness apps for kids.
It’s a sector that’s bringing together an unlikely mix of game makers and medical experts, engineers and researchers — all focused on a common goal of improving health.
For Price, his mission to help kids stay active and healthy is a very personal one. His daughter has Prader-Willi syndrome, a disorder that leaves her with an insatiable appetite and reduced muscle tone, making a regular exercise program vital.
“One of the reasons I went down this road is that I am personally affected by this challenge,” said Price. “A few years ago I represented the BC Prader-Willi Association at a medical conference … I sat there thinking all these people are doing something special for kids and I’m making games and yeah, it’s fun to make games but there’s a time in your life when you want to do something meaningful.
“For me that was kind of the genesis of me leaving that industry and saying ‘okay how can I use my skills for something more valuable?’ And I came up with this concept — can I help kids get a little more active.”
The newest edition to the lineup at Price’s start-up Digido Interactive is a game based on ‘Zoopnium’, an element that seems to have escaped scientific discovery but has shown up in the game of the same name, where it’s spontaneously created by movement. Collect enough Zoopnium and you can create Zoops, squishy and playful creatures to trade and build in numbers. The one thing you can’t do playing the game is sit still. Every movement, whether it’s walking down the street or playing a baseball game, earns Zoopnium — upsetting the traditional idea of video games turning kids into couch potatoes.
Prompting those small changes in behaviour that can translate into big returns healthwise is at the heart of Vancouver’s Ayogo Games.
“As game designers we have this incredible power, we have this capability to influence people’s behaviour and to influence their lives,” said Michael Fergusson, Ayogo’s founder and chief executive officer.
Ayogo teams up with non-profits to create games that combine social media interaction with achievements and rewards. It’s focused on getting people to take small actions that add up to better health.
HealthSeeker, a game developed for the Diabetes Hands Foundation in collaboration with the Joslin Diabetes Center that’s available for Apple and Android mobile devices as well as on Facebook, is one such Ayogo success story.
“In HealthSeeker in particular in the first three months of play, players have done on average six health missions (that can range from eating more fruits and veggies to cutting back on fats). They’re trying out new behaviours that hopefully will become habits over time,” said Fergusson.
Read full article The Digital Doctor Is In… Your phone, from April 27, 2012 at the Vancouver Sun.