Pokemon Go – The Viability of Serious Games in Health(care)

I guess that by now, most of us would have heard of Pokemon Go, the new GPS-based augmented reality game that has recently taken the world by storm.

So what does Pokemon Go have anything to do with Health & Healthcare? Well, according to various reports off the Internet, playing Pokemon Go has various health benefits (including mental health), however the game itself wasn’t designed to be a ‘health app’, it was designed to be a game – an interactive and engaging game.

So what is going on here? Well, for starters, the concepts of using games in healthcare is not new, in fact, a casual search off PubMed indicates that the first publication on this topic was back in 2005, about the first-ever Games for Health Conference that took place 16-17 September  2004.

To better explain the use of games in health & healthcare, it is necessary for me to introduce two definitions;

  • Serious Games
    • A serious game or applied game is a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment
    • The “serious” adjective generally refers to products used by industries like defense, education, scientific exploration, health care, emergency management, city planning, engineering, and politics
  • Gamification
    • The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity to encourage engagement with a product or service
    • “Gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun”

While Pokemon Go was not designed to be a Serious Game for Heath, it is (as mentioned earlier) designed to be interactive and engaging (hence the “mental health benefits”) and it also require the players to physically move about (hence the”physical health benefits”).

In order words, the gamification component coupled with the inherent game design (needing the players to move about physically) unwittingly created a by-product of ‘health’. Now imagine if it was designed as a Serious Game in health to begin with! Imagine the relevant health data one would be able to collect! (Sweet dreams for a Health Informatician!)

The application of Serious Games and Gamification in health is really limited to the creativity of the design team, I covered both topics (including the behavior science behind the topics) with some examples during my recent Aging Informatics lecture (Mini-HI Lite : Smart Aging) on 12th June 2016 in Taipei but with the introduction of Pokemon Go, there is a crucial point I would highlight;

Pokemon Go is not the first game that utilizes AR [Augmented Reality] and GPS, there are perhaps “tons of AR games”, “hundreds of GPS games” but “none of ‘em ever get this level of traction” so why is Pokemon Go so successful?

To answer that question and how one can utilize the underlying principles in their health interventions, come join me at Singapore Health and Biomedical Congress 2016, taking place at the MAX Atria@ Singapore Expo from 23 – 24 September 2016 where I will be talking about “The Case for Gamification in Healthcare” (The topic title was decided way before Pokemon Go was launched, else I would have called it “The Science of Pokemon Go”.. haha).

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