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Using Games to Improve Medicine 122

miller60 writes "At we look at Games for Health 2004, a conference which will explore the use of interactive games in treating patients and training doctors. One presentation discusses "Glucoboy," a Gameboy based diabetes monitoring solution, while another looks at the use of video games in improving surgical outcomes. The event is organized by the Serious Games Initiative, among others."
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Using Games to Improve Medicine

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  • by z3021017 ( 806883 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:02AM (#10263293)
    Is Doom III, which will aid the recovery of stool samples from patients.
  • by zeeball ( 601912 ) <> on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:03AM (#10263297) Homepage
    i'd hate to be the patient whos doctor looses that game
    • new games (Score:3, Funny)

      by gollum123 ( 810489 )
      wow all the cool new games that will come out...first person doctor, real time surgery(RTS) etc where you can do your own operation and see how many times and in how many ways you can die before the actual surgery. will give evryone a realistic expectation from the actual surgery.
  • Isn't it saddening how dependant we have all become on getting our video game fix?
    • Re:Sad... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bersl2 ( 689221 )
      I disagree.

      Isn't it wonderful how video games combined with biofeedback can be used to heal?
      • Re:Sad... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by echeslack ( 618016 )
        I think this could be a great thing, but it will be hard to get it right. For instance, it would be nearly impossible to use a game as a way to help something long term because after awhile most people will become disinterested in the game. They may continue to do it, but it wouldn't have the same appeal.
  • by Nos. ( 179609 ) <andrew.thekerrs@ca> on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:04AM (#10263302) Homepage
    Sniperdermic Needles
    Sprint/bunnyhop to long and your sugar goes low
    Camp and your sugar goes high
    Different health modules, some high in sugar... best be careful
    Sugar fluctuates too much and you temporarily blind

    Okay, who's up for writing a mod for HL?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    They are great for inducing vomiting by certain people like me. Urp.. get me away from this thing!
  • by A Boy and His Blob ( 772370 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:06AM (#10263312)
    I believe Daikatana was used for a while as a blood pressure monitor, but it had disastrous results.
    • I believe Daikatana was used for a while as a blood pressure monitor, but it had disastrous results.

      Daikatana? Bah, try playing a game that actually has a blood pressure monitor built in: Infocom's Bureaucracy [], by Douglas Adams.

  • Diabetes Game (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:06AM (#10263313)
    A game about diabetes monitoring? It's been done [], and they shouldn't do it again any time soon.
    • Re:Diabetes Game (Score:4, Insightful)

      by yo303 ( 558777 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @06:56AM (#10264300)
      It doesn't say it's a game, it says it's a "Gameboy based diabetes monitoring solution".

      It sounds like a portable blood sugar monitor system based on the Gameboy, a cheap and readily available hardware platform.

      You could have graphs and stuff.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:10AM (#10263324)
    This whole game/medicine/mind thing was covered admirably by Norman Spinrad back in 1966, with his short story "Carcinoma Angels." s_ archive/spinrad/spinrad1.html
  • Timothy Leary? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Xerxes2695 ( 706503 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:11AM (#10263330)
    Some games listed as related to health research:

    Psychological Interaction Alter Ego (Activision by Dr. Peter Favaro) Two versions Female and Male were released. Mind Mirror (EA by Timothy Leary)

    The new version is a PC game, the old classic I know and love comes on a little square of paper....
  • by sometwo ( 53041 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:13AM (#10263335)
    Anyone remember The Last Starfighter where the protagonist plays a game and ends up saving the galaxy? []

    "Greetings, starfighter! You have been recruited by the star league to defend the frontier against Xur and the Kodan armada!"
  • by Monkelectric ( 546685 ) <> on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:17AM (#10263354)
    I am quite certain -- the last thing I need is an excuse to play more videogames. They need to attach this glucose meter to a friggin stairmaster.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      There are many skinny type 1 diabetics, including several Olympic athletes.
    • Re:As a diabetic (Score:4, Interesting)

      by LarsWestergren ( 9033 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @05:20AM (#10264086) Homepage Journal
      Yes... reminds me of a slightly silly and probably totally unoriginal idea I had way back (even before the Matrix or Dance Dance Revolution). I was thinking of having the player strapped into a full body feedback suit and VR goggles, hanging in one of those astronaut training things with three rings, so they could turn in three dimensions.

      Then you could have the stats and behaviour of your characters in a MMRPG dependent on your own physique. Like paintball, only you could have more fantastic environments and far out plots. Trying to outrun the T-rex or that fireball? Then instead of pressing a button, start running! (Or at least wave your legs around in the air and hope no one is looking...). Since you are playing a hero, their speed would probably be two or three times your "real" speed, but still dependent on it. If it was possible to have resistance in the suit somehow without cables that the player would get tangled in, you could measure strenght as well. If you were in a swordfight with a pker, stamina, strength and actuall skill at something like fencing, kendo or iaido would matter. The reverse of today, where the best players only show their amazing ability to sit on their fat asses spawn camping and doing the level grind all day and nights.

      Drawbacks - impossible or at least prohibitively expensive technology. A few gamers might start to exercise fanatically, but many more would just be uncomfortably reminded of why they are escaping into a fantasy world. All want to be sexy heroes, and most wouldn't want to play a game where they could be beaten up by a jock again, albeit in a virtual world.
  • How about the Cancer Game? It is Cancerific! [] Seriously though, games are becomming more integrated into many different areas people have not previously associated with video games. There has been a TON of stories recently about games being used for education and such. Is it really surprising though? Games are just a relatively new media afterall. From written text, to pictures, to movies every medium has found uses in a wide range of fields. Games are such a new medium they have not proliferated very far
    • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @07:07AM (#10264325) Journal
      At some point people figured that photos can be used for more than the faces of your loved ones. Or that the printing press can be used for more than novels and bibles. Or that films don't have to involve car chases: they can just as well be used to teach.

      However in the case of "games" we're somehow still stuck with the wrong definition. Everything that involves any kind of simulation _has_ to be called a game, and/or has to be designed as a game.

      We're told for example that the 9/11 terrorists used MS's Flight Simulator "game" to train. Well guess what? By the definition in any other medium, it's not a game. It's a very complex and realistic airplane simulation, that only incidentally also happens to have any entertainment value. It _is_ all about training to fly an airplane to start with.

      If it was a film, it would have been called training material. But since it happens on the computer, it's called a "game".

      E.g., we're told that the US army uses "games" to train its soldiers. No, they don't. They use some complex tactical or vehicle simulators, which only incidentally could also be viewed as a "game". I doubt that the purpose is simply to spend an entertaining evening collecting points and powerups and talking smack to other platoons. It's training, not a "game".

      E.g., conversely, as Will Wright noticed when he was designing The Sims, most people who bought some serious software tools like 3D home or garden designers were actually using them as a sort of a game.

      So basically I'd say that we're stuck with a wrong definition dating from back when games meant pacman eating pills on a simplistic 2D maze. It was entertaining, no doubt, but hardly representative of the direction "games" take today. There were no realistic skills or lessons to be learned from PacMan. It was just entertainment.

      Today we have more and more complex simulations, which incidentally are also entertaining. A lot of times the entertainment value is _because_ of their being a better learning tool, and allowing you to experiment things which would be impractical or impossible to try IRL. No, I don't mean rocket jumps, I mean for example piloting a jumbo jet.

      Or to put it otherwise, it's sorta like some people go driving around on weekends just because they like driving. Yet noone would file cars under "toys". They're a serious tool which, incidentally, can also be used for entertainment by some people.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:18AM (#10263366)
    Who was diagnosed during the time they came out with Captain Novolin [] all I can say is thanks, but no thanks. Everytime I went to the doctor, it was "Hey, play this fun game!" when what I wanted to do was actually, gasp, discuss the disease and figure out the best ways of dealing with it. I was probably atypical, but the fact remains that many kids will be forced to sit through these horrible games when they could be doing something productive.
  • Nothing New (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EightBits ( 61345 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:19AM (#10263371)
    This is nothing new. We have seen games used in this way for other fields. For instance, training soldiers and teaching kids (anyone remember Math Fun on the Intellivision?)

    While it's great to see new fields opening up to the idea of game-based training, I wonder just how effective it could be. It's easy to see how video game training could benefit soldiers, affecting things like awareness, when and how to hide, move, shoot, etc... It's also a no-brainer to see how it can be used to teach children. But, when we're looking at doctors, it starts to get a little blurry to me how this can help. It just seems to me that a game that would be capable of teaching a medical doctor would have to be so complex that it just wouldn't be a fun game. If you simplify it too much, the doctors would start to overlook certain possibilities in treatments because the simulators never covered it. That could be a bad thing.

    Then again, maybe I'm biased by the fact that I grew up playing games that taught children and yet have never seen one for teaching doctors or professions of that caliber/genre. I hope my skepticism is proven wrong because if it's possible, I think game-based training is a great way to train. If it can keep you interested and at the same time teach you, then it's a good thing all around.

    So, are they going to be putting gameboy versions of "Operation" in ERs now?
    • We have seen games used in this way for other fields. For instance, training soldiers and teaching kids.

      I think you meant "Training our kids to be soldiers."

      • . . . because all those games about teaching typing made me an effective killing machine. My fast fingers make pulling the trigger second nature. All those math games made it easier for me to keep track of ammo (if I shoot on full auto for 3 seconds, how many bullets will I use?) and those damn pattern matching games make my enemy's camouflage obvious to my eyes. I'm ready. Send me in to kill bad guys. I'm a fat, lazy, mouse wielding killing machine!

        If only the Alpha-Betas had known about this, they w
    • "It's easy to see how video game training could benefit soldiers, affecting things like awareness, when and how to hide, move, shoot, etc..." ...and after their training, their reflex is to charge straight in, knowing they'll respawn in 23...22...21... ;)
      • Hahahah!!! Well, I wasn't talking about UT or Quake or anything like that. I wasn't even talking about America's Army. Just the idea that a game could train a soldier. Hell, you could even put a feature in a game (this should be in every game) to not respawn until the mission is over. So, if you die, your team has to go on without you.

        And, the military may want a soldier that will sharge straight in. D-Day is a good example of this. Not necessarily charging straight in, but the people that were the
  • by rubberbando ( 784342 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:24AM (#10263392)
    Diabetic kid: "MOM! If I don't keep playing, I'll die!"
  • You could administer treatment to yourself from portable health vending machines
  • by Lost Dragon ( 632401 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:30AM (#10263423)
    "Operation" taught me how to remove a funny-bone years ago.

    Now I help moderate Slashdot.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:38AM (#10263451)
    And I hope you never get it. Yeah, it doesn't kill you right away, it just lowers your standard of living the rest of your shortened lifespan. Then you add the fact that there may already be a cure for Type 1 diabetes [] that may take year reach anyone because of the billions of dollars being made from the disease and it's just a ton of laughs. Ha ha.
  • Long hours (Score:4, Funny)

    by rawket.scientist ( 812855 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:42AM (#10263463)
    Everquest: good practice for those 36 hour shifts during residency.
  • by Nathdot ( 465087 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @01:49AM (#10263485)
    ... you have unlocked:

    Similar to Mario recovering a star token, InsulinRage causes the player to flash bright light for thirty seconds as they become impervious to attack. Unlike Mario however, at the conclusion of these thirty seconds, the GlucoBoy player enters HypoglycemicShock.
  • by Bull999999 ( 652264 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @02:01AM (#10263521) Journal
    First, it was Beer found to be as healthy as wine [], and now games being used to improve medicine. Now the geeks will be known for our healthy ways!
  • Psh... (Score:4, Funny)

    by iamdrscience ( 541136 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @02:10AM (#10263546) Homepage
    This is nothing new. Medical schools have been training tomorrows physicians with the game "Operation" for years now. How else would students learn to remove butterflies from the stomach? By practicing on live subjects? That would be unconcienable.
  • To those who played "Life & Death I or II" surgery simulation. That was always fun, but somehow I have always kiled my patient after first incision :(
  • I just wanted to point out this guy as a great example of using video games (in this game virtual reality) for more than just entertainment. He created "Spider world" to help people with aracnaphobia get used to spiders, and then later created "Snow world" to help burn victims during painful procedures.

    I wrote a big 26-page paper on the guy a year ago in my english class after he gave a lecture at my school. Seemed like a very interesting guy.
  • Don't forget "Captain Novolin" for Super Nintendo. The game that makes learning about Diabetes fun! You are Captain Novolin, a superhero with no special abilities or tools to speak of, charged with the task of rescuing the diabetic mayor from a race of sugar-coated aliens. No I am not joking. It is real. Click here. []

    Google confirms it too [] (for the lazy)
    • I find it curious that nobody has mentioned Packy & Marlon. []

      Similar idea as Captain Novolin, except with elephants, made by the same people who brought you the fine game called Bronkie, which is about a Dinosaur with asthma.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 16, 2004 @02:24AM (#10263598)
    I am a theoretical physicist; for me physics is the prototype of all sciences. When I hear the word 'science' I think pf physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, etc, even economy or computer science, never of medicine.

    A few weeks ago I was shocked to hear on TV someone saying that he became a physician because he loved science. My reaction was 'If you loved science, why did you study medicine, instead of a science (biology, geology, physics, whatever)

    For me a science is a branch of human knowledge which has the purpose of understanding how the world works AND USES THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD for achieving this purpose. The scientific method consists in making experiments and observations and in building theories which explain observed facts, leading to new experiments and observations which lead to new theories, etc.

    The purpose of medicine is healing people, NOT UNDERSTANDING THE WORLD, and thus it is not a science. For a physician is irrelevant how a healing method works, the only thing that matters is that it works (and does not cause secondary damage). Lots of drugs have been used for centuries whitout knowing how they work. In this respect medicine is closer to religion or witchraft than science. It seems that medicine is some kind of engineering. Now and then physicians and engineers use scientific data for their jobs; however it is irrelevant whether some medical or engineering techniques have a scientific basis or not.

    Although very important for understanding the world, mathematics is not a science because 1) it studies abstract notions and relations, not the world 2) it does not use the scientific method (no experiments or observations in mathematics, only theories).
    • You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about.

      I don't think you quite grasp the amount of chemistry, biochemistry, and physics that a physician must study in medical school. It's even more so if they want to specialize or do research.

      Coming up with new ways of healing people *comes from* understanding the world. Researchers trained as doctors are huge contributors to medical research, aka science. (Going by your vague definition of science=understanding the world) Why don't you check out the N
    • by Jonathan ( 5011 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @06:33AM (#10264234) Homepage
      People involved in clinical research do all the normal "sciencey" things -- perform experiments, write papers for peer reviewed journals, and -- *yes* -- they do care why methods work. Yes, it's applied research, but physicists who are trying to design and build fusion reactors are still scientists too, no?

      Practicing physicians on the other hand, while they may keep in touch with current research (perhaps skimming the New England Journal of Medicine or Lancet) aren't scientists in any real sense of the term, although they certainly use science in their work. It's a bit like the difference between a chemist and a chemical engineer.
  • Game or Simulation? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by A non moose cow ( 610391 ) <> on Thursday September 16, 2004 @02:25AM (#10263600) Journal
    The required complexity of a "game" to train doctors would tend to make it not fun. I think the same could also be said for games designed to guide many other professionals.

    At some point the task that a "game" like this is trying to accomplish makes it no longer a game because it is not really entertaining. It is instead a simulation that the person is using to practice their trade. At that point, calling it a "game" seems like more of a marketing move than anything else.

    Of course if you really like what you do, it may still be entertaining for you to practice. For instance, I imagine a military flight combat simulator could be pretty fun, but I still wouldn't call it a game (unless perhaps when you killed an enemy it blew up like Han Solo's final tie kill).
    • The required complexity of a "game" to train doctors would tend to make it not fun. I think the same could also be said for games designed to guide many other professionals.

      I've read a few more posts along these lines. I think that you are under estimating game designers. I wouldn't want to in compass all of a "professional" field in a game it wouldn't work. Here are a few ideas that could work.
      1. A basic first aid game with characters that are similar to the sims, must include Male/Female and age groups
  • Just put a Nintendo 64 with "Hey You, Pikachu!" in each and every room and I'm sure patients will just be shooting out of their beds left and right in much better health. Cost effective, too! =)
  • by rmadhuram ( 525803 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @02:42AM (#10263656)
    In a related note, Virtual Reality is already being used to treat various phobias. [] .managment/ []
  • imagine if the hours that went into making the game had gone into looking for a cure....
    • Re:productive (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ro_coyote ( 719566 )
      Unfortunately, there is a very, very thick line inbetween the realms of computer programming/game design and true medicine. Good game or bad, one can only contribute what they're capable of giving. I for one, as much as I'd love to help find a real cure for specific diseases, know absolutely nothing about medicine. The best I can do is create something that would try to help comfort a patient's stay in that hosipital.
  • Imagine this scenario:

    1. Person walking on the street

      Person get hit by car

      Person grieviously hurt

      Person uses a small medikit with a red cross on it

      *BING!* Back to life!

  • Another Great Example that shows Konami needs to continue the Dance Dance Revolution Franchise for the States. I'm sure if they can found a large enough addressable market in the states will they may consider to continue DDR(in the arcades) or build more interactive games like Mocap Boxing. At least before the PIU Series takes over.
  • I recently heard of burns patients being treated using a game which was described as "total immersion" - some sort of goggle vision. But the neat part was the game it imvolved - chasing snowmen about a snow covered landscape.
    Apparently it's pretty helpful - I mean who can feel burnt chasing snowmen?
  • Ben's Game. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Yaztromo ( 655250 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @03:56AM (#10263859) Homepage Journal

    "Ben's Game" [] just came across my desk, and as it's relevent, I tought I'd mention it here.

    Ben is a 9-year old boy who had lukemia (now in remission) who had a wish: to create a videogame where he could fight his cancer.

    Make-a-Wish foundation stepped up to the plate, and got some developers from LucasArts to make such a game.

    The game is a free download. Apparently the USCF Children's Hospital is installing copies of the game in its pediatric ward for the children there to play. The game is quite well done. I can just imagine the health benifits for the child sitting the hospital on chemo yelling "Take that cancer!".

    As HomeStar Runner [] would say, this kid has the heart of a champion. Way to go Ben!


  • I think we need ot pull and inerspace type thing, where we can inject a remote control meaneature vesel that can relay video signals of what it sees and has simple lasers or simply hot electrodes. I think this could easily be made into a fun and amusing way to fight diseases and to internal surgery by simply have a person swallow a pill and then the Dr can play some FPS inside you body. Perhaps different visual reference coudl be created so when you are doing some micro seuters it can be represented by you
  • Back in 1988, there was a game called 'Life & Death []' where you got to do general surgeries like removing an appendix.

    Then in 1990, it was brain surgery in 'Life & Death 2: The Brain []'.

    Notice, you can download both games from the sites above. I must say, they got pretty high scores back in the day.
  • Why would you call a medical training/monitoring program a game?
    • Welcome to planet earth - calling things a "game" comforts us, it makes it sound innocent, and that makes us feel that it's not really about something else, and we like that comfort.

      We also have the "Olympic Games", and when referring to animals we kill for fun we call them "Game" too.

      And that's just how we like it here :)
  • it's a little ot but we could put games to better use...

    who wouldn't want to play soldier of fortune and kill real terrorists at the same time

    all we need are a bunch of devoted /.ers and some cyborgs (they could produce models that look like the governator, richard nixon, al franken...)

    i don't know but we already have unmanned predator drones so this can't be too far off...
  • Sim evolution or sim body. Imagine a population of the Sims, crossed with civilization. Your population has fitness levels, genetic traits, percent of the population over 60, etc. testostrone levels, etc.

    Over time, they would evolve based on nutrition and conditions.

    It would have to be oversimplified a bit, of course.

    Boring? Perhaps. But it's the most interesting way I can think of to present some really complex and obscure topics.

  • What if it were possible to make a game where you solving a puzzle actually helped to further along a research project. Something like distributed folding at home, but something that can't just be done iteration after iteration. Something that takes pattern recognition or something. There are a lot of puzzle game players that are off the charts when it comes to finding patterns in seeming chaos. It would be cool to harness some of this wasted energy.
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @07:16AM (#10264367)
    Simulation games, such as these medical games, share a core weakness in the design process. For example, in designing a 3-D tracking device, I simulating the sensor data and the wrote the algorithms for interpreting that data. It worked perfectly in simulation, but did not work when we made the actual device.

    The problem was that I had made a minor sign error in some 3-D coordinate transformations. Because I designed both the simulation of the sensor and the software that processed that sensor data, I put the same mistake in both places. This sign error was self-consistent in silico, even as it was wrong in reality (or in vitro, as the medical researchers would say). Simulations can create false confidence.

    By the same token, if the designers of the game have the same medical expert both create the simulated patient and the scoring of player's actions, then any errors in that expert's knowledge may create a false reality -- a simulation that is self-consistent but inaccurate. Doctors that are trained on the system may be to self-confident because they think they have seen a 1,000 simulated causes of X and think they know how such cases seem to progress/respond to treatment. But if this deep experience is based on erroneous "physics" then the learning is erroneous.

    I'm not saying that simulation games are bad, simulations can help train doctors to recognize and respond to rare events (analogous to flight simulators that train pilots for an engine fire that they are unlikely to ever personally experience).

    My point is that simulation games have a weakness in creating cognitive experiences that seem very real and very plausible, yet can be very wrong. Medical knowledge is, to date, too uncertain and too dynamic. If they do use simulations to train doctors and then discover an error in the simulation, they would need to recall both the simulation software and all the doctors trained on it.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...Bzzzt! You touched the side!
  • A Healthy Dose (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DarthVeda ( 569302 )
    Who could forget such educational and healthy hits as Captain Novolin []? Dodge the bad foods and eat the good ones. Save the mayor. Diabetes education for only $69.95. Coming to an SNES near you!
  • Anyone remember that Voodoo Ad:
    "We have a chip that could save lives[...] but we decided to use it for Games"
  • Dude, they can hardly make a game that doesn't suck, let alone one that actually accomplishes anything. Maybe they should get their priorities straight.
    • Then again, anyone who's a programmer understands the sweet joy of doing boring work. Maybe if everyone knew how to enjoy working and accomplishing.... *ducks thrown tomatoes*
  • Personally, I've learned everything I'll ever need to know about medicine by playing Operation []
  • This concept has already been covered/done in ECG form in the late 90s... d= Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=9800006&dopt=Abstract
  • Forget Glucoboy, play Gluco Pong []!

    (I made this game and the Carb Counting one about 3 years ago for this juvenile diabetes web site.)
  • ...of a "socially acceptable" medical device now. I've always been offended by medical devices that saved lives.
  • Here's an interesting article about someone who is using a game to provide players with an approximation of what it is like to be schizophrenic, as an educational tool for people who interact with those who suffer from the condition (family members and caretakers): in ds_ey.html

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."