Thursday, May 11, 2006

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

On Tuesday, I attended the Games for Health Day that was organized in connection with E3. The concept of "Games for Health" might sound odd to those who associate videogames with sedentary lifestyles and detachment from the organic experience of the public sphere, but it is a growing area in treatment, training, and health education in the "serious games" community.

Some of the speakers I have blogged about before, such as Harvey Magee and Skip Rizzo who talks about virtual reality treatments for attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical rehabilitation. The highlight of the day was probably riding the Humvee simulation in Virtual Iraq, while I drove over bumpy cyber obstacles through scenes of smoking roadside attacks. The jolts didn't quite synch with the visual experience, and there wasn't enough variety and ambient noise in the sound for complete naturalism, but it was surprisingly compelling, especially since I have a rare eye anomaly that prevents true binocular vision.

It was interesting to hear Ian Bogost describe his own health game in development, which looks at the political, economic, and societal factors that can shape medical care. As Bogost pointed out, "health" has been the currency of videogame success for a long time, yet few interrogate how that semiotic system is structured ideologically. As a fellow critical theorist, I was surprised that no one seemed to question the fact that so many health games equated treating disease with fighting opponents militarily. For example, disease was often visualized as an alien invasion, a model that Donna Haraway attempted to discredit over a decade ago.

At the Stanford SimWorkshops I had seen several examples of how game technology was being used to train doctors, but these were the first game demos that I had seen that were patient-oriented. Many of these games were intended to teach children what caused their diseases and how to treat their illnesses more effectively. They included the game Re-Mission, which was designed for adolescents undergoing cancer treatment, and two games developed for children by Debra Lieberman of U.C. Santa Barbara, to address chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma.

It was also interesting to see an interactive video project, The Virtual Sex Project, developed by Lynn Miller of USC's Annenberg School for AIDS education directed at gay, sexually-active males. This use of digital technology, which includes simulated sex, differs significantly from the anonymous one-shot missives from e-cards, which -- as this blog has noted -- are being used by other AIDS educators who are deploying computer-based technology to fight the disease.

You can watch the Games for Health video trailer for more information about the organization.

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