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Video Games For Health

Today, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced a nationwide contest to promote the development of computer and video games that improve people's health and assist them in getting the care they require.

Dubbed "The Games for Health Competition," the event will boast award prizes totaling $30,000, and contestants will attempt to develop game concepts and prototypes designed to improve overall health. For further information and details, please visit the Games for Health Competition website.

RWJF is the nation's biggest philanthropy dedicated to health and healthcare, and they are the lead sponsor for the contest. Additional support for the good-hearted (pun unintended) event comes from HopeLab, Inc., a nonprofit organization that combines research with innovative solutions to improve the general health and quality in the lives of our country's young people suffering from chronic illnesses.

"Today’s technology has the ability to both educate and entertain," said Chinwe Onyekere, program officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "We want to encourage people with creative minds to harness that potential in a way that leads to better management and delivery of health and health care. We hope the Games for Health Competition will bring forward some of the most exciting and innovative solutions to today’s health challenges."

The contest will begin accepting entries today, October 19, and will continue through April 1 of next year, with the winners announced in May. Three prizes will be awarded: one for a working prototype and two for storyboard/design treatments.

One inspirational example of a "game for health" is "Ben's Game," a computer game conceived by Ben Duskin, a 9-year-old leukemia patient who believed kids like him needed a lift. He wanted to give his fellow battlers a way to help them with their illness, while at the same time relieving some of the pain and stress of treatment. And thanks to Eric Johnston, a software developer working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Ben's idea soon became reality. The action/adventure game can be downloaded here. Players skateboard through a virtual course, collecting "shields" to protect them from the common side-effects of treatment.

And of course, one of the more mainstream examples would be Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), a top-selling and critically acclaimed Konami title that challenges players to perform complex dance steps with music cues by utilizing an innovative dance mat. The popularity of the game is widespread, and it's even been incorporated into West Virginia public schools physical education programs to help combat the ever-rising level of childhood obesity. Researchers at West Virginia University have concluded that students who normally didn't participate in sports or other physical activity were actually more likely to play DDR.

"These games are now distributed worldwide, reaching diverse audiences, while working to improve overall health and understanding of complex health issues,"said Ben Sawyer, co-director of Games for Health. “Through this competition, we want to extend that kind of powerful impact to other health and health care issues."

All entrants in the storyboard/treatment contest must design a game that outlines a specific problem faced by health care providers, or address a significant health issue and possible strategies for dealing with the problem. The design documents should be 3-5 pages in length and include 3-4 relevant visuals.

If you want to tackle the prototype competition, you must develop a working prototype of a health-related game in playable form. The options are many; you can address any health or healthcare topic from training to disease management to building general awareness and understanding.

The competition is open to anyone over the age of 18, and that includes independent and collegiate developers, casual gamers and organizations not dedicated to game production. Of course, health and healthcare organizations are encouraged, and this means schools of public health, healthcare non-profits, and hospitals. So if you've got an idea that could help those who need help, don't be afraid to give it a shot.

10/19/2006 Ben Dutka

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