Games for Health Conference Takes Games Beyond Entertainment

Games for Health LogoEncompassed in the new Games Beyond Entertainment Week, the 2010 Games for Health conference runs from May 25-27 in Boston, MA. The annual event will feature six thematic tracks, including a new Games and Rehabilitation track and it features over forty sessions and sixty speakers. Building off the experience and successes of the past six years, the conference is strengthening its role as a key resource in the field of video games in health care.

“This annual conference has become the premier event attracting the top minds in game development and health care,” said Paul Tarini, senior program officer and team director for the Pioneer Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one of the conference's key partners.

Certain study areas are definitely maturing, finds Games for Health Project founder Ben Sawyer. "They're building upon a basis of work that really exists. You're seeing second generation work go forward and new trails start to fire off," said Sawyer in an interview with Game Forward. Read More...

Conference organizers are also seeing a greater interest in the Games for Health movement. "This year we have more companies requesting to work with us to do introductions to key researchers and developers. That has gone up three or four fold from last year," said Sawyer. "People want to meet the kind of attendees we attract."

Big names are also making a formal entrance into the Games for Health space. The conference is opening with a keynote presentation by Dr. Richard Marks, Senior Researcher at Sony Computer Entertainment. He will be discussing the relationship between gaming, play and exercise. Marks will also explore the psychological dimension of seeing yourself on screen combined with the physical interaction of having a controller in your hand--referencing his work on the new PlayStation Move controller. With the prevalence of the Nintendo Wii in health care games research and rehabilitation particularly, Sony and its new motion technology have the potential to become serious contenders in the field.

Dr. Richard Marks of SCEGetting involved with the rehabilitation sub-community this year is an exciting new opportunity, explains Ben Sawyer. On May 26, the conference will be hosting the first Games and Rehab track, with sessions entirely devoted to game-based sensorimotor rehabilitation efforts.

The track notably features Dr. Henrik Haptop Lund from the Center for Playware, Technical University of Denmark. Lund is the creator of therapy tiles (PDF), a robotic system using playing for rehabilitation. His talk will touch on the design of technology used to enhance playful rehabilitation for different groups from cardiac and stroke patients, to hospitalized and disabled children.

Other rehabilitation sessions will focus on human computer interfaces; the study of Parkinson's patients using Dance Dance Revolution; home-therapy games for autism; the making of a mobile rehab application; as well as virtual reality cycling for people with asymmetrical movements. Several presentations will look at uses for the Wii for such things as a balance tool for high fall risk individuals, sports injury rehabilitation, active aging and physiotherapy, recovery from burn injuries and post-traumatic stress reduction through cooking games, and for playing your way to a health back and body.

The Active Gaming track, the Cognitive and Emotional Health track and two open tracks will span both days. One of the Active Gaming presentations will explore the health effects of drumming games. A few will look at exergames, the kind of energy expenditure they create, their incorporation in schools, and how they can help with pain management. Another will present the main design principles to follow to create an active game.

The track devoted to cognitive and emotional health will explore subjects like the use of casual games to fight depression, anxiety and cognitive decline; the creation of a suicide prevention game and the behavioral effect of video games on ADHD patients. Another session will discuss the development of a game for depression--one of three collaborative projects born from conversations started at last year's conference.

The track's featured talk comes from Dr. Jayne Gackenbach, dream researcher and professor at Grant MacEwan University, in Edmonton, Alberta.  She will speak of her work on video game players and the development of consciousness, exploring the effect of games on sleep patterns.

Using the Nintendo Wii as a Rehabilitation Tool"She is a researcher in dreams looking especially at REM sleep," explains Ben Sawyer. "She started getting intrested in games because her son started playing them. She looks at dreams to see the relationship between how they confine memory and how they are regenerative. Sleep and dreams go hand in hand; sleep and health go hand in hand."

The open tracks feature such varied subjects as designing games for impact--a panel hosted by HopeLab; teaching health game design; a review of game-related injuries and illnesses; the use of video games in psychology; how off-the-shelf games can influence child development; as well as presentations on audio games and games for cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, HIV prevention, cystic fibrosis, flu, surgery and even to fight tooth decay.

Games for Health founder Ben Sawyer will also take the floor to explore the concept of healthy video gaming and gamers. He will mainly look at the environment in which children play and the attitude that kids and parents have toward gaming.

Scheduled on May 27, the Simulation, Education and Modeling with Game Technologies track will host sessions on military combat and care training systems; a game for national incident management; and a case study on creating a game about malaria.

Games Beyond Entertainment Week

This year for the first time, Games Beyond Entertainment Week will aim to promote networking, marketing, business development and knowledge sharing between different segments of the video game industry. Building on the Games for Health conference, the week includes the returning Game Accessibility Day and Virtual Worlds and Health Day, both in their third year, on May 25.

Game Accessibility Day will focus on case studies successfully addressing the video gaming needs of individuals with various disabilities and notably includes a "Hacker Hardware Challenge." The Virtual Worlds and Health Day will attempt to redefine a field which has plateaued in recent years, explains Ben Sawyer. Understanding what virtual worlds in health care mean today and taking into account the popularity of social games, the day will focus on this changing landscape.

The week-long event will also introduce new events mainly focused on the serious games space. The first annual Serious Games Festival & Conference is set for May 24 and will explore design notions, market penetration and learning outcomes of serious games. On May 25, the Out & About: Mobile Serious Games Conference will offer a variety of presentations on mobile health and learning apps.

Also on May 25, two serious games workshops will give attendees the opportunity to discuss hands-on development of mobile and serious games. Lastly, the Emerging Markets in Video Games Symposium, also scheduled for May 25, is expected to focus on new and non-traditional market opportunities for video games and their technologies.

While these events are early in their life cycle, Sawyer hopes to see some of them expand into longer, full-fledged events in coming years. "We're trying to establish this idea that each year in Boston, wrapped around our core Games for Health offering, we can spawn other conversations about how games are living beyond just entertainment helping developers, companies, non-profits find the people they need to be able to take advantage of what games can do as technologies and as design pools to solve problems," says the lead organizer.

Games Beyond Entertainment Week runs from May 24-27, 2010, at the Hyatt Harborside Hotel in Boston. Persons interested in registering for events can do so here.