Video games are a fairly young medium. As such, their usefulness is generally thought to be limited to entertainment. They are games after all. Some people are looking beyond that, however, and are finding ways to use the hobby we love to do more. As gaming grows and becomes more mainstream, these projects are moving from niche uses to broad scope applications.
I hadn’t originally planned on writing about this but, while doing some digging for a completely different topic, I came across “Sea Hero Quest” from Glitchers. The premise was fairly mundane: navigate rivers and seas and collect things. The hook is that the game records data, anonymously, about how players navigate and explore to be used in research on the causes and effects of dementia. This data is used to crowd source a benchmark for “normal” navigational ability which has never been established. This allows doctors to compare these data points against dementia patients since loss of navigational ability is one of the first symptoms. Over 3 million people have played the game to some extent and, according to the developers, two minutes of gameplay is the equivalent of five hours of lab gathered data. I’m no scientist, but I’ve known people with dementia. Any step forward in researching treatments or a cure is a worthwhile cause.
Another interesting example is #selfcare, created by Tru Luv is described as “not quite a game, not quite an app”. This “companion”, as named by the developers is designed to help promote self care by teaching the player how to relax and “simply feel better. There’s no winning, no failure, no score. No difficulty, no ads, no notifications. There is just us and our feelings.” This is done by creating a virtual space, a bedroom specifically, and guiding the player through a variety of exercises such as measured breathing or lighting candles. You can can even cuddle with a cat. All without your virtual stand in ever leaving the bed.Tru Luv’s goal, according to CEO Brie Code, is to work with artists and doctors to create relaxing experiences right on your cellphone that help improve the life of the user.
While not restricted to one specific game, first person shooters have been seeing increased use in therapy for soldiers suffering PTSD. Gaming in general has done well for many veterans as both a distraction from their symptoms and a way to process their experiences and find some measure of healing. VR has been particularly useful for “exposure therapy” which allows these vets to reenact situations similar to their experiences and become habituated (less sensitive to) triggers that cause issues in their daily lives. While it isn’t a complete solution, any extra tools available for doctors put these men and women one step closer to being mentally healthy again.
These projects are just a few examples of a growing field of using technology and the expanding accessibility of games to improve health and conduct research. The power of crowdsourcing is proving itself time and time again as a way to generate large data sets which is the key to any successful research. As games gain ground as tools for helping people in different aspects of their lives, I’m excited to see what comes next.