It seems there are new risks to our health being discovered every week. Everything is a risk, from stuttering car exhausts to the calming flicker of a candle! Our bodies are under constant attack and it us up to each of us to protect ourselves from these risks as best we can.

I can hear some of you guys sighing right now. Don’t worry, this isn’t a sermon. We are going to look at how games (yes games obviously!) can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and even aid recovery for certain ailments. Afterwards we'll take a quick look at new technologies the medical community are using to improve healthcare.

Let’s dive in.

We all know “prevention is better than the cure”. Leading a healthy lifestyle and looking after yourself gives you the best chance at fighting any future health issues and avoiding a world of others. One aspect of a healthy lifestyle is, of course, our fitness.

According to the Mayo Clinic healthy adults should “get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity…” If you are like me and class exercising as a chore but do have a soft spot for relentless hoards of the undead, then there is a serious game for you! Introducing Zombie Run! This Kickstarter success story has been around for 5 years improving the health and fitness of their players regardless of their initial fitness level. Set your exercise activity, stick in some earphones and dive into a captivating Zombie epic. The compelling storyline motivates you to push yourself harder. The reward of the next chapter makes sure you are eagerly awaiting your next training session, not dreading it! It is a great way to improve your fitness.

 
 

Hand in hand with fitness is diet.

We need food to survive and everyone knows sugary, fatty or greasy foods aren’t good for you. So what is? I’ll be honest. I really wanted (and tried very hard) to find a serious game that focused on this area and was available to play. A few titles cropped up in my search ‘JiveHealth’ looks like a great game for kids. ‘Yummy tricks’ was another game that cropped up but, like JiveHealth, wasn’t available to play. If you have suggestions of serious games which promote healthy eating please drop us a line into the comment section.

Moving swiftly on we have SuperBetter. A game designed to increase your resilience, basically game your way to a (cue Daft Punk) better, stronger, motivated and positive you. Just ten minutes a day playing SuperBetter can add years onto your life. It reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression, cultivating your self-esteem and confidence. SuperBetter is just one of the games out there helping people take care of their emotional and physical wellbeing. 

Delving in to the more niche uses of serious games, we have Re-Mission.  Re-Mission was mentioned previously in one of our posts but it is a serious game worth mentioning twice! Re-Mission was developed to help children diagnosed with cancer. Through gameplay it teaches kids about their cancer and the importance medicine plays in recovery. It works at changing attitudes towards chemotherapy so it becomes a positive experience. Studies showed that playing Re-Mission, patients understood more about their disease and were more compliant with their treatment.

This is just one example where serious games are helping people on their way to recovery. There are other serious games that focus on different diseases, physical trauma and on-going health issues. Serious Games for Health have collated a short list of resources.  There are serious games on there that are used in rehabilitation for patients with physical difficulties,  promoting mobility in the elderly, even Tetris is listed as a treatment for lazy eye syndrome. It always amazes me the health benefits people can get from playing games!

Before starting my research I foresaw serious game mainly being utilised as a training tool for health professionals. I’m not saying I thought surgeons were practicing procedures using Surgeon Simulator! (Comedic gore alert!) But I had the preconception that serious games would be used exclusively for professional training but I’m happy to report I was wrong. Of course there are some serious games that are used to enhance professional medical training but the majority are for your average Joe who wants to lead a healthier lifestyle, speed up their recovery or better understand any ailments they might have. It is really encouraging to see games being used this way.

I had the same preconceptions about Virtual Reality and its uses in healthcare. In my mind, doctors would be diagnosing AI patients, maybe even practicing rare procedures in Virtual Reality simulations. But there is so much more out there and it is growing in popularity. By 2018 it is estimated to be a $2.4bn industry!

Take CPR for example. There are already games that focus on training its players to perform CPR in real life should the need arise. Games like AED Training and Hands Only heavily focus on the actual CPR methodology. I’ll be honest they are basic and a little underwhelming on the graphics and storyline but they get the job done at the end of the day. They provide an avenue for people to learn CPR and for First Aiders to keep their knowledge up-to-date. But for people who want to learn CPR where the entertainment value is important too, Relive is the game for you. There is a captivating storyline, comic book style graphics and a whole lot of Sci-fi thrown in for good measure. The game is free to download via Steam so everyone can learn the basics of CPR and hopefully that will prompt them to seriously consider First Aid training. There is also a virtual reality aspect to Relive. Using an Oculus Rift and a mini-VREM (Virtual Reality Enhanced Mannequin) players perform CPR on the mannequin but as if they are in the game environment.  It is such an intriguing area; I’m really looking forward to more games that use virtual reality headsets and other peripherals to bring medical and first aid training to the masses.

 
 

For some more ideas about what’s to come I fully recommend giving this article a read. For other successes in the VR/Health sector, read how serious games are being incorporated into Stroke patients rehabilitation here

If any of you have food/fitness/healthcare serious games you love, please leave a comment and let us know all about them. 

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