Monday, October 02, 2006

Games for Health Day 2

The framework for thinking about games is getting clearer and clearer.

An additional type of game emerged today from someone I met who is working at large health portal - the microgame. These games have some distinct advantages over more complex "boxed" games in that they are simpler, less expensive to develop and quick to deploy. In addition, based on the info I got, it seems as if there was a substantial response in terms of game play (4 to 1 clicks to the game vs. other content choices) on the portal.

Expanding further on potential self-efficacy that can come from games - the developers of Escape from Diab (diabetes/obesity prevention game) are on the far extreme of microgames. They've developed a "boxed" game that initially runs on PC's but apparently is flexible enough to be ported to PS and Xbox platforms. The speaker had a particularly good insight:
"Knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient"
In terms of self-efficacy - simply providing PDF documents and static web content isn't enough - it doesn't go far enough in creating self-confidence for example about how to prevent something, or how to react in an emergency. In light of our obesity problem which is getting worse, not better - interactive games like Escape give players tools and strategies to prevent or reduce obesity and at the same time are fun to play.

Another speaker, who developed Journey into the Brain which sold 55,000 copies in retail has a new game coming out called NeuroMatrix - a game about the brain. Cynically, I was snickering at their video promo - the line "frolic in the hippocampus" got a few people chuckling out loud. But the game demo was actually very cool. The game is set up like a mystery with some intense interactive elements combined with patient analysis - and a 1st person shooter.

Next up was Immune Attack which is an educational video game jointly developed by the Federation of American Scientists, Brown University, and the University of Southern California. The game's goal is to teach immunology in a fun and engaging way. As oppposed to a direct to consumer approach of Escape from Diab and NeuroMatrix, Immune Attack is game to be deployed by teachers and played in school. This post is WAY too long already - so I won't go into distribution models, but the topic was conspicuously missing from the entire conference for the most part. In any case, the speaker got at yet another significant issue surrounding serious gaming, paraprhased as:

"IA is a games that teach themes - it is not a teaching aid in the guise of a game"

Later in the day, the guys who developed Re-Mission did a talk about the development of the game and talked over and over again about how they carefully tried to avoid having the game positioned as "edutainment." I'm still learning, but it seems as if "edutainment" is apparently death for a game trying to be commercially successful (although Brain Age seems to be doing pretty well, as are Sudoko and other "brain games").

That night at the reception, Virtual Heros presented some pretty fantastic stuff built on the unreal engine - a special ops training game that measures "vectors" of your response (adrenline, brain activity) and a MASH unit looking game where as a doctor, you can inject a patient with several different things and then treat the patient in a full immersive, 3D world.

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