Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gaming and the health sciences

Last month, the 2012 Horizon Report identified game-based learning as an emerging technology that would have a significant impact on higher education in the next two to three years.  As usual, the health sciences are ahead of the curve and physicians, researchers and even pharmaceutical companies are already trying out games as learning, marketing and research tools.

Physicians Get Points

With HealthTap, patients seeking information no longer have to wade through wildcard Google results; they can pose questions to a community of physicians who build their online reputations by answering them.  These responses are then rated by other physicians in the community as well as the information seekers reading the answers.  Read more about HealthTap in the New York Times.

Social Games as Outreach

Pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim has released Syrum, a game in which players develop new life-saving drugs, participate in clinical trials and learn about the patent application process. In addition to teaching players about the processes involved in pharmaceutical research, the company hopes the game will become part of a positive social media reputation.

Benefits of Play

Researchers across the health sciences are looking into ways games can go beyond enriching the lives of the players to actually improving their health. As Robert Lee Holtz recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, researchers are finding that the effects of video games include increased accuracy and efficiency in decision-making, better hand-eye coordination, and improved night vision.  Michael Merzenich of UC San Francisco believes that video games can be designed to take advantage of the brain's neuroplasticity, and will be running clinical trials to evaluate the benefits of gaming for schizophrenic patients.  University of Chicago Medicine's Melissa Gilliam has designed a transmedia game to teach students about sexual health. She believes that the fact that the narrative takes place across multiple platforms will appeal to the urban community she's trying to reach.

Playing for Research

And then there's Phylo, the game that asks "citizen scientist" human players to align complex DNA sequences. Players participate casually with minimal contextual knowledge, and a 2011 study published in PLoS One found this crowd-sourced data improved the accuracy of the aligned sequences by 70%, a statistic which emphasizes the potential for gaming to become an important tool across the health sciences.

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