Better health through blasters

February 26, 2009
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I tried to tell everyone back then — my Atari 2600 is a great educational tool — but no one would listen.  Of course, space aliens and blinking ghosts really only contributed to arguments of improved hand-eye coordination, but the world of gaming has come a long way since then.

Full disclosure: I am a ‘gamer.’  Not a serious one, mind you – any normal 13 year old with a Halo rifle and a modicum of experience can (and does) mop the virtual floor with me – but I enjoy video games.  Whereas the Atari years were marked with a subset of kids (usually males) with either too much time or too many quarters, today’s gaming universe is filled with gamers of all sizes, types, and ages.  In some circles, my mom would even be considered a gamer (if only playing Solitaire – albeit religiously – counts).

My attraction to video games is similar to my attraction to my job – technology innovation.  Games drive the incremental improvements in PC technology – they always expand to push the boundaries of existing computer capabilities and demand the next generation.  The artificial intelligence developed for games (e.g., SimCity and its younger sibling the Sims) in many cases represents

I tried to tell everyone back then — my Atari 2600 is a great educational tool — but no one would listen.  Of course, space aliens and blinking ghosts really only contributed to arguments of improved hand-eye coordination, but the world of gaming has come a long way since then.

Full disclosure: I am a ‘gamer.’  Not a serious one, mind you – any normal 13 year old with a Halo rifle and a modicum of experience can (and does) mop the virtual floor with me – but I enjoy video games.  Whereas the Atari years were marked with a subset of kids (usually males) with either too much time or too many quarters, today’s gaming universe is filled with gamers of all sizes, types, and ages.  In some circles, my mom would even be considered a gamer (if only playing Solitaire – albeit religiously – counts).

My attraction to video games is similar to my attraction to my job – technology innovation.  Games drive the incremental improvements in PC technology – they always expand to push the boundaries of existing computer capabilities and demand the next generation.  The artificial intelligence developed for games (e.g., SimCity and its younger sibling the Sims) in many cases represents state-of-the-art software for modeling human intelligence and behavior.  So consider now the growing role gaming technology can play in healthcare: improving surgery performance, heal burns, fight obesity, stroke victim rehabilitation, smoking cessation, health plan member relations, and modeling human immune response as just a few examples.  The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has sponsored an initiative called Games for Health which is focused on “a community and best practices platform for the numerous games being built for health care applications.”  There was a great blog post over on The Healthcare Blog that described some future uses as well.  UPDATE OCT-11: the day after publishing this article, an inventory of 100 health game developers appeared online that you might like.

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