Why not make a game of it?

December 8, 2014 in Medical Technology

Healthcare is serious business. But for a few brief hours on Sunday afternoon, John Ferrara, gamer extraordinaire, showed how it could be turned into a game for the benefit of patients and caregivers anywhere.

Ferrara is serious when it comes to gaming. But, he’s playful, too. His aim is to have fun, and it’s also to spread goodwill in the world.

Ferrara made that clear Sunday at a half-day session at the annual mHealth Summit here. Called “Games for Health University,” the presentation was part tutorial, part hands on, as Ferrara urged the audience to say how a certain game could be better or how it might be more engaging. He also had the audience create their own games.

Ferrara, who has been designing video games since 2001, has among his successes, a game called “Fitter Critters,” the winner of a 2010 Apps for Healthy Kids Contest sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let’s Move! campaign.

Ferrara also founded Megazoid Games in 2011.

At the mHealth Summit session on Sunday, Ferrara urged the audience – 20 or so students for the half-day – to put the game first.

The game has to be fun, compelling, he pointed out.

To drive his point home – and to engage his audience even more  Ferrara has prepared a t-kit – plastic zip-lock baggies for every audience member. The baggie held dice – green, purple, blue and red. There were also a number of colored plastic chips that matched the colors of the dice. There were a few pennies and a small stack of index cards that represented the Kong game on paper, images of natural resources like rocks, rivers, trees on small, square card stock and finally a calling card of sorts, with Ferrara’s name and Twitter address.

“With this kit, you can create a lot of different games,” he told the audience. Then he suggested that a paper prototype might be helpful to creating a smart, engaging video game. It may seem counterintuitive, but Ferrara is a fan of the approach.

“Strip off usability and usability layers,” he suggested. “Don’t try to represent the entire game on paper,” he said. “Instead work on small things.”

Several audience members were eager to get started. One was working on managing chronic diseases; another wanted to build a game that was engaging but at the same time educational – one that could help gamers get used to a healthcare vocabulary that would eventually be of help to them.

Derek Carbonneau, who offers consultation to a company that works on reducing hospitals readmissions, readily saw the merit of the games. He’s also worked for gaming companies and a video game company.

He would agree with Ferrara that the game has to come first. The game has to be engaging and fun in and of itself.

If that is right, “then pretty much everyone responds to making good health choices,” he said.


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