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For many children in the developed world, video games are a part of everyday life. They may play video games from the time they get home from school until they go to bed at night, which may annoy their parents and even negatively impact their grades in school. Gaming also has proven benefits. According to Jane McGonigal, gaming guru for the Institute of the Future, playing video games supports “positive emotions—like optimism, curiosity and wonder; collective intelligence; and a stronger social fabric” . Children and adults also learn through the use of video games, and many educational or “serious” games are now being introduced to help solve real-world problems.
A chronic, critical health worker shortage threatens achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in developing countries and delivery of quality service worldwide. To help fill the gap, PEPFAR set a goal of recruiting and training 140,000 new health care workers in partner countries by 2013. What if video games could be used to help solve the health care worker shortage? Wouldn’t that be cool?
Games played on computers and mobile phones can’t replace the skills and experience of real health workers. And no, I’m not suggesting that IBM build thousands of “Watson” doctors and nurses. What playing games can do, however, is help individuals learn critical knowledge and skills that will ultimately help them take better care of themselves and, thus, potentially visit health care centers less often. Video games can also be used to better prepare students for their future roles and even connect health care workers to each other once they start working. Possible applications of gaming include:
When countries without significant landline infrastructure wanted to join the digital age, they leapfrogged old technology (landlines) and invested directly in cellphone infrastructure. We should encourage using the same approach with health-related technology. When there is a market for information, companies are likely to capitalize on it and make money. And that’s exactly what’s happening with video games and online applications dedicated to health; many “games for health” sites operate subscription services that require a credit card to join and monthly fees to stay connected. This model makes perfect sense when the resource base supports it. However, it isn’t yet practical in most of the contexts where we work.
To fill the gap, we should:
In short, let’s get our game on.
1. McGonigal, J. School of Life Sunday Sermons. Available at: http://vimeo.com/16227360.
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