Gamify Your Health

By Aditi Ramaswami

I’ve always loved games. From hide-and-seek to board games, I love the challenge, the bragging rights, and the time spent with loved ones. I always thought that playing games had no purpose other than fun, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that playing games can make us more physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially resilient—key factors that contribute to whole-person health.

There is good science behind the notion of games as being beneficial to health. For example, the game Re-Mission was created by the nonprofit HopeLab to address the alarming statistic that 80% of cases where childhood cancer returns, and kids fall out of remission, are tied to missed medication. Re-Mission is a video game where the hero is the kid with cancer, and he or she is fighting off the “bad guys,” or cancer cells, with what’s called a chemo-blaster weapon. The “power-ups” are doses of chemotherapy, and the game was set up in a way that when the virtual patient misses doses, the chemo-blaster malfunctions, making it harder to defeat the cancer cells and ultimately “win.” In a clinical trial, patients who played Re-Mission for just two hours improved their medication adherence for three months—a sign of overwhelming success.

Jane McGonigal has closely studied the psychology of game play and its benefits, which led her to develop SuperBetter, a game to help her overcome her own post-concussion syndrome and a book to describe the way it works, all backed up by tons of research. Her book describes seven principles of gaming—challenge yourself, collect and activate power-ups, find and battle the bad guys, seek out and complete quests, recruit your allies, adopt a secret identity, and go for an epic win—and how these principles can be applied in real life to help people enjoy better health and better lives.

Having a “gameful” mindset can improve what McGonigal refers to as self-efficacy, or the confidence in our abilities to achieve goals and tackle problems. SuperBetter provides a set of tools to help achieve this—one that has demonstrated greater engagement of patients in their health upon playing, as well as greater satisfaction and ability on the part of caregivers, from the home to the hospital, to care for their loved ones. And here you thought navigating the health care system wasn’t fun!

Gamification is a big deal in health care right now because of its largely-untapped potential to reach patients, caregivers, and families and provide motivation for them to make smarter health decisions. Many health care leaders are on the lookout for innovative ways to increase opportunities for good health, so I’m excited to see how Colorado can creatively capitalize on this trend, and ultimately make our health care system more approachable and maybe even fun(?!) for Coloradans.

This blog was contributed by Aditi Ramaswami, Public Policy Coordinator at the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Undeserved. Read the original post here.