Making healthcare fun: Role of online games

School and learning always had unpredictable effects on me as a child. Subjects, such as languages, geography and civics induced fits of yawning, while others like algebra, geometry and trigonometry induced fear and loathing. I sought out classmates who suffered similar trepidations and looked for collective comfort in each others tales of woe! So, imagine my surprise when I recently met an old ‘partner in crime’, who, I incredulously learnt, went on to get a PhD in streams as terrifying as economics and finance from a US university! Worse still, he actually taught the subjects in one such university and thoroughly enjoyed doing that! I was intrigued! My curiosity to know what changed over the years, began, what in a few minutes, turned out to be a very fascinating conversation.

Teachers have worked hard to get children and young adults interested in “boring subjects” such as personal finance. The challenge is how to do so without boring or confusing them with lectures about compound interest. Now there’s a growing effort to reach and teach young people [people in an impressionable age] on their own turf: online games. More than 70% of people play some form of game, and that percentage is far higher among teens. Gaming experts see this as an opportunity to package critical lessons into an activity that people enjoy. Games, of course, won’t replace other methods of teaching, but they might go a long way toward bringing to life subjects such as finance, personal health and hygiene. These and other such issues are boring to the average youngster, but the value of inculcating valuable information on these topics cannot be overstated.

Games already have been used successfully for training in many areas. Games and simulations are used to train pilots, brief commando teams about enemy terrain, simulate complicated surgical procedures and even educate truck drivers about how to decrease fuel consumption and accidents. The best thing about gaming is that you are in a fantasy world. You can decide to do things that you wouldn’t do in real life and see what the consequences are without having to experience the pain.

It’s too soon to know if finances can be taught through games, yet early results are promising. Teachers have used games such as Stagecoach Island, Celebrity Calamity and The Great Piggy Bank Adventure to complement other teaching methods to help students understand principles of finance that include setting goals, saving and spending wisely, the impact of inflation, asset allocation and diversification.

Games and online simulation have a role in the healthcare education and awareness space as well. Health games and virtual worlds bear the potential to improve education, provide greater engagement, and engender positive behavior to enhance health and wellness. Games can be a fun and innovative way to reach new audiences with pertinent and targeted health messages.

Take for instance, an online game, called Pos or Not, which aims to increase HIV/AIDS education and awareness. The website, posornot.com, shows photographs and short biographies of men and women ages 21 to 30, asking visitors to determine if each is HIV-positive or negative. During the game, HIV-positive participants share when they first learned their HIV status, and HIV-negative participants talk about how they have been affected by the disease. The game also provides information about HIV prevention, as well as local HIV and sexually transmitted infection resources from CDC. The message is that you can’t judge someone’s virus status by looks, occupation or taste in music.

Healthcare games hold huge potential for the pharmaceutical industry, by both engaging consumers and improving health and brand outcomes—all that in an interactive electronic format that will be an important part of consumers’ lives for many years.

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