Researchers Push For Healthy Video Games
> 10/27/2006 10:54:02 AM

The concept of a video game enticing children to exercise, eat more vegetables and adhere strictly to medical regimens strikes many as far-fetched, but an increasing number of developers are designing and testing just such games. The industry brings in 7 billion dollars per year in the U.S. alone and has long served as a convenient scapegoat on which to lump the blame for problems ranging from obesity to a perceived obsession with violence among American youth. While the largest share of media attention still lies with controversies like those surrounding the Grand Theft Auto series, some advocates have long claimed that, rather than turning kids into desensitized zombies, moderate video game usage actually improves focus and hand eye coordination. Despite the willingness of most politicians to attack the industry, many in our government and business sectors realized the potential benefits of video games long ago. The military currently uses their own games to aid in recruitment and training, and small but well-funded minorities aim to develop positively influential games that are also popular with children and young adults.

Current developments
on this topic include organized attempts to create and market games for kids with chronic diseases. Examples include Escape from Diab, a game designed for kids with diabetes, and Re-Mission, a game for cancer patients that focuses on the nature of the disease and its successful treatment. By placing these issues into traditional gaming formats, designers hope to teach kids more about their diseases and encourage them to pay more attention to following proper medical procedures. Re-Mission follows a Tomb Raider-like heroine as she moves through a patient's body, defeating cancer cells along the way. In Escape from Diab, players must exercise and seek out healthy foods to escape from a city where everyone eats junk and suffers from diabetes, hopefully sending a somewhat subliminal message to kids whose lifestyles contribute to the disease. Teenagers are historically more likely than young children or adults to stop taking medication or ignore other important aspects of treatment, and related studies show fewer instances of skipped doses and stricter adherence to regimen among those who play these games regularly. 

In related news, a non-profit organization called Games For Health (an offshoot of the Serious Games Initiative) announced a contest in which aspiring designers submit their own healthy video games; winners will receive cash prizes, and their contributions will hopefully aid in developing more effective games. These efforts make up only a small portion of a mammoth industry, but positive elements of such initiatives may soon find their way into the mainstream video game market. Most children will understandably not be drawn to games focusing on specific conditions that do not affect them, but the fact remains that an overwhelming majority of American kids (and quite a few adults) play video games on a regular basis, and any observably positive influence that can be injected into this frequently demonized industry is a good thing.

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