Gamification is the application of typical elements of game playing, to other areas of activity, to encourage engagement. That’s the dictionary description. The dictionary also states that “gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun”. How true.
Gamification is used throughout the world in many ways. Marketing, productivity drives, recruitment and evaluation – even traffic violations in some countries! All of these show the positive effects it can have on individuals and their behaviours.
However, perhaps its most profound, and for some surprising, use is that of helping healthcare patients recover physically and mentally. And it’s known to improve behaviour, especially if used from a young age and thus saving the need for time spent on future primary care.
Passionate about the impact that gamification can have on health and overall wellbeing, we’ve put our efforts into developing an augmented reality (AR) asthma app that is designed to train kids on the positive management of asthma. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-CQQ-bnJmo&feature=youtu.be
By definition, games are fun, and therefore naturally appealing to the young in particular. These allow easier shifts in learned behaviour patterns when required for treatment.
Gamification is not such a newcomer to the recovery room. A game invented as far back as 1997 helped children manage their diabetes. This resulted in a 77% drop in admissions needing urgent care; the children were learning new behaviours without even realising it.
Patience for treatment
At any age, distraction techniques work! People who do not feel motivated to accomplish when rewarded, whether that’s in the form of a treat, a reward, even just the sense of achievement a fictitious title can give – are in the minority. And that’s what gamification used in aiding recovery relies on and why it’s so successful.
A patient faced with weeks of physical therapy exercises, particularly if the long-term goal is just that – a long way off – will respond more to short-term rewards, gained with an element of fun involved, on their sometimes painful journey to recovery.
In both scenarios, what we have is a patient feeling less like a ‘patient’. In itself that’s a huge psychological hurdle crashed through and metaphorically burned.
Computer game therapy is a growing field that is still finding its feet, but more prevalent than some might think. And although the perception of gaming for many may be that of social isolation, with teenagers engaging, albeit virtually, with unsavoury characters and violent psychological dramas, what we are actually seeing is the promotion of wellbeing.
Role-playing in it’s basic ‘people in a room’ form has been around for centuries. It is used effectively to help patients deal with issues they would prefer not to confront, but need to in order to heal.
Medicine and technology have worked together for many years, but often, these solutions have been in the form of pills rather than software. Now, that’s changing. With constant research and developments within the gaming industry, a new set of tools with therapeutic potential have emerged.
Strong narrative structures, immersive role-play and comforting game dynamics are being brought to the attention of both researchers and doctors as valid treatments for a range of illnesses and improved learning behaviour techniques, especially for the young.
A study published in the American Psychologist found that computer games could provide a cheap and effective way, alongside other drugs and therapy, of alleviating mental health problems.
The research found that all games, not just socially complex or immersive role-playing games, have a part to play. Even simple games that are easy to access and quick to learn such as Angry Birds, were found to improve players’ moods, promote relaxation and ward off anxiety.
Positive mental attitude
Now, games are being specifically written with significant input from health professionals. Language, tone of voice, narrative structure are all considered, to help abolish negative thought patterns and focus on promoting positive affirmation, and therefore improved learned behaviour.
And we’re now seeing games that help people improve their wellbeing as they play through more physical game mechanics.
The game uses wearable technology to measure heart rate variability and rewards players who can control their heart rate through regulated breathing – a habit that is incredibly useful in promoting wellbeing and mental health. Players can increase their mental resilience and wellbeing through repeated gameplay.
When the famous gamer Jane McGonigal suffered a traumatic head injury, so convinced was she that gameplay would help her recovery, she developed her own game, Jane the Concussion Slayer, to use as part of the treatment.
After a full recovery, she went on to research analysing people’s brain patterns while they played immersive role-playing games. The research revealed that computer games light up the part of the brain associated with motivation, learning and goal orientation.
McGonigal says: “These are the parts of the brain that don’t activate when people are suffering from depression. Gaming is the neurological opposite of depression”. She has now developed a programme SuperBetter to help patients heal by creating what she calls a “gameful mindset”.
Educational fun and games
There are the obvious long-term benefits from engaging with patients in this way, with rewards and achievements. Gaming is a powerful, immersive tool and by pushing patients beyond the limits they set for themselves with minimal persuasion, it can be successful in achieving recovery results.
But, as important, is the need and ability to educate too. Starting with fun but introducing specific metrics to inform and educate the patient ensures the motivation stays a priority, is tangible and therefore successful.
Gamification is essentially holistic in its approach, and behaviour change has become one of the most effective levers for reducing preventable disease and death and increasing our feeling of wellbeing.
Writing a comprehensive review on ScienceDirect, Gamification for health and wellbeing: A systematic review of the literature notable scientists and researchers concluded that conceptually, health gamification sits at the intersection of persuasive technology. It revolves around the application of specific design principles or features that drive targeted behaviours and experiences.
Gamification can be a powerful and cost-effective way to treat chronic diseases, addiction, anxiety and other mental health challenges. And with continual breakthroughs the long-term benefits and primary care cost-saving implications, having fun while healing has unlimited potential.