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GDC 2016 – Gaming Delivers Health Solutions

This week saw the Game Developers Conference (GDC) take place in San Francisco. Thousands of the best minds in the gaming industry gathered together to share ideas, learn and be inspired.

There’s no doubt that gaming is big business with global revenues for 2015 hitting an estimated $91.5 billion in 2015. And with such incredible global reach and levels of engagement, it’s exciting to learn that the gaming community has advocacy firmly on its agenda, targeting topics from healthcare to education to diversity and beyond.

Back at the 2011 conference, the gauntlet was thrown down for developers to create games that would give players “Super Mario Health” – i.e. games that would provide real-life health benefits and affect positive change on a personal level. This year, developers who took up the challenge got their moment to shine and share their solutions. Of course, over the years since 2011, the mHealth industry has exploded, with medical records moving online, boosting the trend of connected health and products such as Fitbit and the Apple Watch helping shift the balance towards greater patient responsibility and self-awareness. And gamification in tackling health issues seems to dovetail perfectly into that trend – consumers are comfortable putting their health information online and spend increasing time playing games. 42% of Americans, 75% of whom are adults, play games for at least three hours a week.

So who were the Super Mario Health heroes at GDC 2016? First up, a game called SuperBetter, which according to its website has so far helped over half a million people “achieve personal growth and tackle real-life challenges”. SuperBetter works by taking on the principles of what makes “regular” gaming so engaging. By provoking positive emotion, gradually building up the user’s ability and strengthening social connection – all by turning everyday tasks into “quests.”

ShapeUp, a game focused on well-being in the workplace, also made the cut. ShapeUp’s products run the gamut from stress management to well-being assessments to weight-loss programs, and even financial wellness, based on the insight that people who successfully change their lifestyle often leverage their social network for support.

To my mind, one of the most positive aspects of gamification and health is that it has the potential to connect with, and educate, demographics that are typically hard to reach with traditional healthcare messaging. Making managing health issues (however small) more engaging and rewarding is surely good news.




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