Disrupting Health Through Social Gaming and Play

Disrupting Health through Social Gaming

The following text reflects excerpts of Michael Fergusson in conversation on the Top 20 podcast, The Health Crossroad by Drs. Thomas and Ellwood (Episode 26).

I’m very excited to be alive at this particular time time in history. We have a whole new collection of technologies, a whole new set of opportunities to reach people and influence their behaviour individually and collectively on their smart phones and in their social network where they’re connected to other people. There’s never been as powerful an opportunity in all of human history to have an impact on how people live their lives and how they get satisfaction from the things they do to make themselves and their families healthy.

When we were first creating our company we were looking at facebook games, how people were playing and how these companies were making money. Here we saw this amazing thing taking place, in how games were fitting into people lives. We saw a different person was playing and they were playing in really social ways. Now we have social environments for older people who have all sorts of concerns about their health. We thought maybe we can combine these things – the internet, the smart phone, new therapies – to solve probably the biggest health problem we’ve faced, diseases of behaviours and our propensity as human beings to not do the right thing or things that are good for us.

We’re seeing the most active gamers are older people and in particular women. Women in their 40’s classically are the social game players. They’re engaging in these light, casual, very social games. These little slices of play fit in throughout our day, that fit very nicely into an adult lifestyle. I can play for a minute while I’m standing in line…


In the full interview, Michael Fergusson (MF) discusses the power of social gaming and play in health with specific examples. He also discusses narrative, incremental progression, first steps, how to capture opportunities, and his own personal experiences moving into health.
Notable quotes from this interview regarding Gamification:

Michael Fergussion: Gamification is a term I have mixed feelings about because it trivializes in some ways the importance of what it is that we’re doing – we’re talking about harnessing something that is a fundamental aspect of the human mind.

Notable quotes from this interview regarding Play:

MF: We downplay the interest of what we’re doing in our daily lives. We take the play out of it.  So much of what we do in our career, our work, in our personal lives, is really a kind of play and yet we have a hard time finding the joy in it. I like to keep track of the joy and exercise the play muscles by thinking about my life as a game I can get good at, and fail at, and learn new skills and move forward.  These are the kinds of things we do everyday…
MF: When I say play is the most profound thing we can do – I mean it. The ability to play, to create games out of whole cloth is why and how humanity survived to this day.  Let’s think about Hide and Seek…

To listen to the full podcast, visit The Health Crossroad – Episode 26.
Notable quotes regarding Narrative:

MF: For newly diagnosed people, narrative storytelling is important – it’s not just about what you’re doing, but how you think about what you’re doing.
MF: We can use Narrative to turn around fears and guide it.  Narrative, storytelling is excellent for helping people retain information, understand it, organize it in our minds. But it is also good for developing our self concept. What happens in the narrative can be under our control. We think about the protagonist as being us. What happens in Monster Manor is that what happens to the Monsters is under the child’s control and <the child can> build a sense of control over time, control and a sense of self-efficacy that is often missing from an unpredictable condition like Type 1 diabetes.
MF: This applies to adults. You’re a newly diagnosed person, you might be afraid. It’s hard to integrate this idea of yourself as a sick person into your own narrative or story, into your self concept. Giving them a story that they can talk to themselves about –  one that is not shameful, not frightening, or hard to understand, but speaks to them – is a really important way to integrate this idea of managing their disease and their self concept.

To listen to the full podcast,visit The Health Crossroad – Episode 26.
Notable quotes regarding Incremental Progression:

MF: Progressive Mastery is an aspect of play that is often missing from healthcare. We’ll give patients a pile of information and say ‘Master this. Today you know nothing, tomorrow you’ll know everything. Read through this.’ We don’t really work that way as people. When you look at well designed games, they give you a nice clear sense of incremental progression.
MF: We’ve built an application for adults that incorporates a curricula – not just educational curricula and knowledge they need but also new habits -a  curricula of behaviour. We do it by breaking it down into simple daily tasks. Every day they complete their daily task. Having completed it, gives them access to a free play, exploratory space where they can get more information, or if they’re feeling overwhelmed they can just stop. Because completing each of these daily steps on its own, doesn’t give you a strong sense of progression, we create a visualization that allows them see how their picture becomes increasingly into focus.

Michael’s favourite motivational quote:
Schopenhauer said- it’s not to see what nobody else sees but to think what has not yet been thought about what everybody sees. What that quote says to me is that we are surrounded every day by opportunities. We are surrounded by things that could part of other things that could be combined in unexpected way to produce entirely new bits of value.
Recommended reading discussed in the interview: Raph Koster’s A Theory of Fun.
Find out more about Empower – the new platform described by Michael in the interview.