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Games as Digital Medicine (Part 2)

In our last installment discussing video games and medicine, we detailed how video games can serve as digital medicine, as tools for maintaining physical and mental health and wellness. 

via Giphy

As we march further on into autumn and towards the end of the year, we thought that the intersection between video games and medicine could use another examination! In this post, we’ll investigate how video games allow clinicians and researchers to gather data and encourage public health participation, how they can provide learning opportunities to medical students and professionals, and generally how they function on the inside of the medical field. Turns out, video games are an excellent resource for training, experimentation, research, and more!

Video Games as a Large-Scale Research Tool

Thanks to video games, medical professionals can gather research on a larger scale than ever before. For example, FoldIt, a puzzle game developed by the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington, crowdsources research. By playing the game, which involves folding and building proteins, users can contribute to drug development and the structural understanding of diseases such as HIV, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Learn more here about how FoldIt is being used to fight COVID-19. 

Similarly, Sea Hero Quest (Deutsche Telecom alongside GLITCHERS, UCL, UEA and Alzheimer’s Research UK) was a game that conducted the “largest study of spatial navigation abilities,” and was “played for a combined total of over 117 years by 4.3 million people around the world, providing scientists with data that would have taken traditional dementia research 176 centuries to collect.” Following the success of the first title, Sea Quest VR was introduced in 2017. Watch the video below to learn more about how Sea Quest VR is used as a research aid!

Serious Video Games, VR, and Public Health Initiatives 

Even before the pandemic, researchers were exploring serious video games as avenues to increase vaccination rates, especially for influenza. A 2020 study found that a serious video game increased a group of adolescents’ interest in getting the HPV vaccination. In recent years, research has shown that the use of VR may help young children regulate their emotions better during vaccination, and that the use of VR may encourage those who normally do not seek a flu vaccine to reconsider. Though a relatively new tool for public health experts and workers, serious games and virtual reality are promising methods for increasing vaccine education and coverage. (Virtual reality is handy for many other medical applications as well!) 

For aspiring public health professionals or just those curious about the role of vaccines, there are a host of educational games on pandemics, from the CDC’s Solve the Outbreak to The Vaccination Game developed by students and scientists at the University of Oxford and Goldsmiths and the University of London.     

Video Games for Medical Education

Video games for medical education offer students and professionals a zero-stakes place to practice procedures, surgeries, and more. Simulated emergency situations in these games aim to diminish the likelihood of emergencies or errors in real life, as well as increase the preparedness of medical staff. Filament Games’ own Saving Lives! is a game that implements American Heart Association Guidelines for CPR and gives players practice giving chest compressions and using an AED. 

Companies such as Level Ex and Osso VR are creating immersive training experiences for dermatologists to surgeons with the help of simulation and VR games. When tested by physicians in 2016 and 2017, Night Shift, an adventure game that takes place in an E.R., results showed that the game helped medical staff effectuate trauma triage better than those who didn’t play. 

There is surely more innovation to come as the relationship between medical training, research, and video games continues to grow. We’re excited to see what the future holds for digital medicine, VR training, and beyond!

More innovative educational game applications:

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