Games in Education

PlayMancer Project Targets Health Care with Serious Games

PlayMancer LogoThe European-funded PlayMancer project is working on revolutionizing the way health care is provided. By using existing video game engines, it is developing a way for players living with certain medical conditions to seek treatment, through the game world.

The project focuses on supporting the development of “universally accessible games” so that players of all abilities can use them, especially for physical rehabilitation. Its main goal is to shorten the serious game production chain by basing it on generative modelling, therefore making it more cost effective. In turn, it will make it cheaper to offer a full-fledged, pre-designed gaming world. Read More...

The team behind the project comes from a range of backgrounds in academia and industry. Members hail from Austria, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. The team is developing a series of games modules in two application domains: for physical rehabilitation and for therapeutic support and lifestyle management programs for behavioural and addictive disorders.

“We want to build actual games, serious games, around serious health-related problems like bulimia and chronic pain,” said PlayMancer project manager, Elias Kalapanidas. “Using gaming in this way is really breaking new ground.”

“It’s not just about developing the most fun and interactive games, or targeting particular groups,” adds Kalapanidas. “We want to seriously improve the accessibility of games, making them playable by all kinds of people, including the disabled.”

For example, people suffering from chronic pain could be playing a game designed to ease their symptoms while their therapist monitors their progress online. The therapist could interrupt the game any time to adjust the settings or to address an imminent health risk to the player.

“Health is embedded in our methodology and available from the game engine itself not as a service developed afterwards or some mash-up application added to attract the health market,” emphasized Kalapanidas.

The Technical University of Vienna developed early prototypes built off intial work by PlayMancer. These were demonstrated to hundreds of visitors at the latest edition of the annual Vienna Science Fair.

“We attended this very high-profile fair in Austria because we know the success of our final games and development tools will rest to a large extent on how well we can get the message out about them,” said Kalapanidas.

PlayMancer is hoping to successfully enter the serious games market when their project is completed in late 2010. Although this market is still young and maturing, especially in business and training applications, entering it is a considerable challenge.

“Our games are aimed at specific health problems initially, which could make the market even harder to develop, but all the studies and analyses point to strong potential. So, it’s only a matter of time with the way computers and gaming are evolving,” said Kalapanidas.

The team has released a YouTube video of the demos in action. The short film shows a cross-section of the community trying to manipulate virtual objects in a 3-D rendition of the old-school game Pong.