From Candy Crush to Video Games Health Rush

By March 26, 2014EU

Today, as widely reported on the BBC and elsewhere, King Digital Entertainment, makers of the brilliant and addictive Candy Crush Saga video game, is due to commence trading on the New York Stock Exchange, with an estimated market value for the company of around $7billion. But can video games be put to a “higher” purpose than making money and crushing time? Thinking along these lines are charity Cancer Research UK, researchers at Essex University, and Belgian SME Fishing Cactus. They have all been looking at using video games to improve people’s health and wellbeing.

CRUK has created a free smart phone game “Play to Cure: Genes in Space” that has helped the charity’s scientists analyse gene sequence data. This is a novel way of utilising crowd-gaming to help discover cancer-causing gene faults, and support efforts to develop better diagnostics and treatments.  It also helps to plug the increasingly large gap in charity finances in an age of austerity, which has made funding research directly increasingly difficult.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports recently that Nintendo’s best-selling Wii Fit game has successfully been used by researchers at the School of Biological Sciences at Essex University. The scientists claim the sports simulation game can help older people stay on their feet, as it improves balance and co-ordination, which is especially important in those prone to falling. Given that recurrent fallers are reported to cost the NHS nearly £1.7billion a year in hospital admissions and long-term care costs, there significant potential to make big savings from something as simple, and non-invasive, as encouraging older people to play video games.

In Belgium, Fishing Cactus has produced a Microsoft Kinect prototype called “R.O.G.E.R” which it terms a “therapeutic serious game”. The company worked closely with two neuro-psychologists at the Hôpital Erasme in Brussels to develop this video game designed to help assess cognitive deficiencies in patients.  In the game, which features a full 3d virtual world, players (patients) have to pack a piece of luggage with a list of pre-determined belongings, whilst being precisely observed by a clinician. The EU is providing serious backing, to the tune of Euro 5.65m, for such “serious games”, through its Network of Excellence on Serious Games called GaLa – the Games and Learning Alliance.

Also making good use of the fun, widely available and accessible nature of video games, US researchers have shown that playing a 15-minute stroke-education video game “Stroke Hero” appeared to help a group of New York City school kids to identify stroke symptoms, and to call emergency services if they saw someone having a stroke, as sometimes young children are the first to witness a stroke, perhaps of a grandparent.

So next time you’re tempted to have “just one more go” on Candy Crush, consider how you could be having fun with a different game, and helping the world stay healthy at the same time.

Daniel Gooch & Morgane Taylor