Games for the Health

When thinking of ways to improve health and fitness many people reconsider their eating habits or spending more time in the gym as opposed to playing computer games.

Healthcare experts are currently teaming up to contemplate games technology across different healthcare fields. Yesterday saw the start of the First Annual Games for Health Conference 2004 in Madison, Wisconsin, which has been studiously blogged by Ian Bogost, an academic game researcher, games designer and educational publisher.

The first ever gathering of game developers, researchers, and healthcare experts are discussing applications of games and how it can aid health and fitness.

The event was developed by the Serious Games Initiative, the Academic Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Co-Lab at the University of Wisconsin System in Madison, and the Federation of American Scientists’ Learning Federation Project.

According to industry experts interactive games and emerging game technologies could improve consumer health education, and professional clinical practice, including disease and injury prevention, service delivery, and professional education and training.

Yesterday James Rosser of the Beth Israel Medical Center, highlighted the need to surround new students with interactive, fun environments to learn, whilst Debra Lieberman of UC Santa Barbara demonstrated how games produce health outcomes. She spoke about enhancing Self-Concepts where a main character in a game could have a condition such a diabetes and asthma to promote a role model, or a signature character.

The conference comes prior to the release of a new software title, Yourself!Fitness, which will hit the PC and Xbox in a couple of weeks. While it is intended as a virtual personal fitness trainer for women, thousands of gamers could stand to benefit. The product combines tailor made, interactive and goal-oriented gaming experiences focused on health and fitness. By tracking the gamers heart rate and effort, the digital trainer Maya is able to alter the course and difficulty of a workout as it progresses to match the gamers personal needs for the day.

The new exercise regime will be far from boring, as unlike a Body Combat session at the local gym, no two workouts will be the same. Each day, Maya builds an individual routine based on the users progress and commitment level. Coaching includes Yoga, Pilates, Cardio Fitness, Strength Training, Flexibility Exercises and Targeted Weight Loss routines. Avoiding the smell of sweat and visions of sticks on treadmills, users are able to workout on an island or in an Alpine Retreat. 

Ian Bogost coverage