In Review: 2012 Games for Health Conference

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to attend my first Games for Health conference. Yes, you heard right – a conference about the impact of playing games to improve health and well being. A serious win-win situation! If you’re interested in what went on – you’d be able to catch a glimpse through the tweets (hashtag: #gfh12).

The conference is led by Ben Sawyer, who has been a pioneer in the serious games world for quite some time. Some official background from the Games for Health website:

“In 2004, Sawyer also co-founded the Games for Health project, an initiative which has built the primary social and professional networks of the health games industry. Through on-line resources and regular regional and national events, Games for Health connects health professionals, researchers, and game developers in order to advance the development of health games and game technologies. The Games for Health project receives major funding from the Pioneer Portfolio, an initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.”

I was invited to take part in the conference as a moderator for one of the panels looking at the current state of social games, particularly those which are design to create some sort of health impact. The panel consisted of three forward thinking game design companies: RallyOn, Mindbloom and Ayogo Games. I’ve been exposed to Mindbloom and Ayogo through other events and initiatives, including a demo at last year’s Health Data Initiative Forum and the Diabetes Hands Foundation partnership for the HealthSeeker Facebook game, respectively. I definitely learned quite a bit from these companies CEOs as we discussed the current state of social gaming, how they are being applied to the public and private sectors and looking to the future. We got amazingly good feedback from the audience as well as some great questions – a success!

Hundreds of game developers, health professionals, and leading researchers attended the 8th Annual Games for Health Conference on June 12-14 to brainstorm and debate how video games and technologies can work to improve health & healthcare for children and others.

Some of the highlights of the conference included keynotes from Dr. Bill Crounse who leads health initiatives for Microsoft, Jane McGonigal (count me as a fanboy!) who is one of the leading voices on games to make positive social impact and is co-founder of SuperBetter Labs. You should check out her TED talk today. It was also good to see Jay Walker close the conference as he’s a great storyteller and did a fantastic job earlier this year at the TEDMED event. As always, random hallway conversations with new people were one of my favorite things. I ran into so many fantastic people doing amazing things with gaming and technology but also the stories of HOW they got started continued to energize me. Stories of incredible loss turned into ventures of hope and impact – these are the reasons why the health world is being turned on its head into a field of tremendous solutions.

A slew of breakout sessions that covered futuristic technology, social aspects of gaming and the technical details of game design all made up for a boatload of knowledge – this is THE conference to attend if you’re interested in game mechanics, design or even just how solving health problems is starting to become fun.

Mission: Help Kids Develop Critical Thinking Approach to Building Healthy Relationships.

Things I Learned:

  • When creating games, instruct the user as LITTLE as possible on what to do to achieve the goals. Allowing people to figure out their own paths will open the doors for much more creative solutions and insights
  • In the future, games will no longer be an optional solution in the health world. Games will be fully integrated into how we live and work – this from Jay Walker
  • More people need to be exposed to the gaming world of health solutions. I’m really interested to see resource-strapped schools get their hands on these games. I want traditionally underserved populations to use these technologies to boost achievement and morale.

I seriously can’t wait for next year’s conference and hope to be involved again.

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