News & commentary about the global health workforce
Vital Home

Serious Games Can Lead Young Players to the Global Health Workforce

Have you ever stood at a crossroads and had no idea which path you should take? What if you could make your decision and step forward confidently, knowing that if it all falls apart, you can simply come back to the crossroads and make a different choice?In the gaming world, you can. Games allow players to essentially rewrite their own histories within a safe haven. You can make risky choices without fear of causing real harm—whether it’s to yourself, to your friends, or to your environment. With each decision, you as the player build a persona. Sometimes it’s an accurate representation of yourself. It can also be an idealized version of you, or the “evil” version you wish you could be on a really bad day. As you play and replay the same game using different personas, you see a different world view emerge. 

Irene Mwende is just a character. But thousands of young people dream of becoming a health worker, just like she does.

A perfect example is the game Mass Effect, where the choices you make while playing directly affect the situations and choices that become available to you later. And if the choices you make kill a beloved teammate or turn you into someone you don’t want to be, you can wipe the slate clean and start again fresh, having learned your lesson.

Vital Pursuit

What if we could use the power of gaming to help people explore the intricacies and possibilities of the global health workforce? Could we help a sixty-year-old American businessman relate to a teenage girl in Kenya who dreams of becoming a nurse? Would his greater understanding prompt him to donate money for a real girl’s education? And what if we could help high school students test drive a career as a nurse, one of the most in-demand occupations in the world? Would these students be more likely to choose a career in health care and help reduce the global shortage of health workers?These were the questions we asked ourselves early last year when IntraHealth International was raising money for a staff innovation fund. Employees from across the organization donated generously. Many submitted proposals for innovations. The competition was stiff. (IntraHealth staff are a creative bunch, after all.) When our proposal to create a health workforce game was eventually selected, Vital Pursuit was born.The main character in Vital Pursuit is Irene Mwende, a Kenyan girl who dreams of becoming a nurse. True, many of us will never be teenagers in Kenya. But we can all relate to dreaming big about our futures—and to feeling like those dreams may be out of reach. In Vital Pursuit, we stand in Irene’s shoes, face the financial and ethical challenges she faces, make decisions that will alter the course of her life, and deal with the consequences of those choices. Don’t worry, though—if things end badly, we can always go back and try again, using what we’ve learned to guide Irene toward success and happiness. Of course, Irene Mwende is just a character. But thousands of young people dream of becoming a health worker, just like she does. Reaching these students and helping them understand how to achieve their dreams can help them find success and happiness, too. We are excited about the tremendous possibilities that serious games—or games created for education and solving real-world problems—offer for those prospective health workers, and for the people they’ll serve in the future.Play the beta version of Vital Pursuit and let us know what you think.