Mobile, social, fun: Games for Health

By: Brian Dolan | Dec 1, 2011        

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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsThis week MobiHealthNews offered up a complimentary report, Mobile Social Fun: Games For Health, which we produced in collaboration with independent analyst Bonnie Feldman. Any one who has attended a mobile health event this past year has likely noticed the increasingly common talk of health gaming, gamification, game mechanics, and so on. It’s quickly becoming the go-to strategy for startups working to engage consumers in their own health. And, for the most part, that’s a good thing. When appropriate — why not make healthcare fun?

“Healthcare, in of itself, is boring, while gaming is exciting, fun and addicting,” Qualcomm’s Vice President of Wireless Health, Global Strategy and Market Development Don Jones said. “Applying game theory — gamification — to health apps, you can capture the consumer’s imagination and engage them in their own health.”

The report’s author, Bonnie Feldman sums up the overall trend nicely in the opening pages of the report:

“Given the widespread adoption of mobile phones and social networks in addition to the popularity of casual gaming, those focused on improving health outcomes see an opportunity to leverage these technologies to drive health behavior change. Admittedly, this sector is still in its early days, but given the trends towards anytime, anywhere and personalized information with group influence, we expect that use of games, game mechanics and gamification will increase in healthcare services.”

Get your complimentary copy of the report here.

I’ll be discussing the social and gaming trends in mobile health in one of the panels I’ll be moderating at next week’s mHealth Summit in Washington DC. My other panels include an mHealth 101 session focused on mobile health regulatory bodies and a discussion focused on how to align “function, business, policy, and regulation” in mHealth. Between those three sessions I expect we’ll have it all figured out by mid-week. Please send suggested questions for my panelists before the event or tweet them at me here: @MobileHealth and I’ll try to ask them on-stage next week.

The MobiHealthNews team will be out in DC in full-force along with our good friends from ListenIn Pictures, who shot and produced our video What is mHealth? at last year’s mHealth Summit.

We hope to see a lot of familiar faces next week and meet a good many more in between sessions and on the show floor.

  • Ernie Medina, Jr.

    Having worked in clinical public health/health education for the last 19 years, we are definitely in need of “gamefication” within our field! Strategies to change behaviors connected with lifestyle-related diseases just don’t seem to be working, from my view here in the trenches.

    That’s why I’m excited to be associated with Shinobi Labs, headed up by CEO Julie Price, who’s goal is to make mobile health apps that are fun, and where the health behavior change is secondary!

    Our first app that demonstrates that is Mobile Adventure Walks (currently for iPhone only), where players go on a scavenger hunt answering clues about their environment. One lady who played during the American Public Health Assoc. annual meeting last month said she didn’t realize how far she had walked, she was having so much fun answering the clues!

    I look forward to more apps like this where FUN is the key component to exercise, nutrition, stress management, smoking cessation, and other health apps.

    As US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said in her talk at last month’s TEDMed meeting, we need to add “fun back into prevention”. (BTW, she’s an iPhone user and love the idea of Mobile Adventure Walks!!! Hopefully, she has done some of the dozen Adventure Walks in DC by now. ;-)

  • Ernie Medina, Jr.

    BTW, I’m excited to be working with several graduate students who are looking at various aspects of the “gamefication of health education”. I hope that their research will lead towards more classes being taught in this field within our Schools of Public Health!

  • Dan Munro

    Balanced report – but I think we need to taper expectations of what “gamification” can actually deliver relative to actually modifying consumer behavior – especially as it relates to health/wellness.  

    I really liked Ian Bogost’s post from earlier this year:  “Gamification is Bullshit.”

    While the title is provocative – he’s really being more philosophical than accusatory (or critical).  The larger point is that modifying consumer behavior is really hard – and slathering on a layer of “gaminess” may sound reassuring and easy – but it’s not.  Here’s a quick paragraph – but it really is worth it to read the whole piece.

    “More specifically, gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway.”

    PS: Brian – hope we’ll get a chance to meet at the mHealth Summit next week.  If you’re there – we’re in the Startup Pavilion (#R16).

  • Bonniefeldman

    I would agree that game mechanics is simply a tool in the toolkit.  I suspect the power to enact behavior change will emerge slowly using a some combination of social networking, crowd sourcing and data analytics.

  • John Martins

    The mobile gaming industry has truly risen over a lot of other industries out there. The constant addition of new smartphones and mobile gaming devices are plentiful. iPhone 4 is getting a ton of happy customers because it’s so easy to use and the games and apps are so professionally made. Games like Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation for iPad and iPhone have gone over the top with their sales (Read a review here if you don’t know what it is: Apps like InstaPaper and Panorama are incredibly succeeding and the sales of PC software and console games are decreasing due to the ease-of-use in mobile gaming.