Recipe for Serious Gaming (in health care)

“You can only develop successfully when you have good partnerships with people that are experts in their field” says dr. Alma Schaafsel at the symposium Games in Healthcare: hype or hope? This may sound like the ever stated obvious but it is exactly what most projects lack: open cooperation between the right experts. A caring serious gaming project is often started with the best of intentions by a health care expert from needs arisen or by ICT experts based on their new favourite trick. Of course nothing good will ever come of it until these two (the need and the application) work together. However, just knowing what technicality will fill the need does not a success make.

Ingredients for serious gaming:
 One health care expert
 A researcher from an applied psychological field
 One or more ICT geniuses with at least one know-it-all
 A media psychologist
 A game expert
 All users
 An interpreter

The health care expert starts the whole process and/or offers insight into the need that is to be fulfilled as well as the issues and daily practice of health care. This expert is the shining beacon of this project and yet he is merely a starting point. When we research the need, we attempt to move beyond what might seem into the realm of what is. Is the friction we experience the same that is causing the heat? Who feels this need and when do they feel it most? What will be the result of fulfilling the need? Only after you have minutely charted the actual need can there be effective development and measurement. Do not skimp on this part of the process but hire a trained professional; an academic with experience in this kind of research (and no, market research or having done some interviews is not the same!).

ICT development has its own problems such as different platforms that can’t or won’t communicate. Hardware and software limitations, several programming languages, calculations that take too long for interfacing to run smoothly and general ‘bugs’ that seem to pop up from out of nowhere. To be able to deal with all this successfully you need ICT experts that are fluent in the language and developing environment they are working in as well as all the other environments your game will encounter and handle this creatively. You need someone who can see above and beyond the current project, someone omnipotent. Every project needs a know-it-all like that.

Next we encounter the space surrounding the playful interaction we are developing. The physical, psychological and emotional processes that all users must go through in order to be at play. My most beloved frustration is that these processes are often overlooked or ignored whilst developing any mediated application. You then run the risk of developing a perfectly fitting key to a well-researched lock that somehow nobody uses to open the door. This might be because the key turns in the opposite direction than what people are used to. Or because the turning motion of the key is too heavy. It could also be because the lock is in the wrong place. Or because users have no idea what is behind door number three and it really isn’t interesting to go around randomly turning keys. All these situations can be prevented by inviting a media psychologist at the stage of research and first development and heed his/her council.

Since the objective is to develop a game you will need someone well familiar with game-mechanics. If you want to use the power of gaming, make sure you are actually developing a game. This seems stupidly obvious but you might be surprised (I no longer am) how often the point is missed. Adding a high-score does not a game make. To be called a game, a number of criteria must be met and preferably this meeting should be done with some creativity while never losing contact with the need at the centre. This is hard.

Properly done research is always important but even more so when developing anything in the field of health care. Your game will be interacting with people in a vulnerable position and must be backed by the people in the white coats that run this field. When you wish to recruit the average white coat to use his/her authority to back your game you had better bring some persuasive arguments backed by numbers. These numbers should show two things
1) No adverse effects
2) Clear and present positive effects.
You can also present these numbers at the several accounting departments who will transfer your positively humane numbers into the bottom-line of economic result. Whilst we still view health care as something that should not be individually paid but a socially shared burden (come on America), the funding for your project will be coming from large institutions such as insurance companies, ministries, European organisations or health care centres. These organisations cannot work with good intentions and great ideas. They can work with the results of scientific research. Here we find the same researcher that we needed at the start of the recipe.

Throughout the entire process another expert is needed. The one who can clarify the need we are trying to fulfil, the one who will find the flaws in the system for you and the one being researched; The user. By which I mean ALL USERS. All the people (and other systems) that will be interacting with the wonder you are developing are very important at every stage of development. Get them and keep them involved. On-going user testing is the only way to effective development.
Interpretation is needed. The people you have gathered around your game may well be the pinnacle of knowledge in their field; usually they are blissfully unaware of the goings on in all the other fields involved. To prevent Babylonian delays in your project please add someone who knows something about everything and speaks all the languages. If suitable, this person should be your chef and run the kitchen.

Add all expertise’s into the mix and stir. Get yourself some decent cooking utensils. The experts involved are not necessarily separated into individuals. One person can be a pre-mix of several experts. For example, I am a three-in-one mixture: the researcher, the media psychologist and the interpreter. Feel free to use these pre-mixed people; they will only enhance the flavour. There are several cooking methods that can be used. I prefer Scrumming it. Share and enjoy!

Please read this inspiring blog on taking the advice of experts in making Serious Gaming by Pamela Kato

This is a translation ofan earlier blog of mine

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  1. Pingback: Caring gamnes | Kenskeysandloc

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