Image: Flickr/Victor Semionov

“Where there is play, there is also meaning,” explained Johan Huizinga, a Dutch historian way back in 1938 in his book ‘Homo Ludens.’ Still today, play is one of the primary formative elements in human culture. Its importance in both learning and providing meaning is the core of what is called serious or applied gaming– a digital game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment.

Serious gaming takes advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in play –first by enticing the player to participate and engage and then by providing the opportunity to interact in an activity or community. Gamification, employing game mechanics and game design in non-game scenarios, is another way play in technology is used in situations such as business learning or disease management.

At Digging Deep, we see unlimited potential for serious games to help teens work through the emotional challenges that invariably hit them when facing a significant health issue, whether this be due to physical or mental health. The opportunity to embrace game mechanics to make situations that are uncomfortable and tough to talk about, more palatable—to be worked through in a fun and engaging way—is exciting to us.

Younger generations use their technologies as a force of habit. By the age of 21, the average young American has spent over ten thousand hours playing on computer, mobile, and video games (McGonical, 2011). They are not only playing games for fun, they are using gaming technology in many ways. Technology and gaming is an undeniable presence in their everyday life, from entertainment to social networks, to dating games, mapping or e-learning. There is hardly a process in our current way of life that has no technology intervention.

Image: Flickr/kev-shine

In healthcare, traditional applications have focused on either treatment for patients—keeping track of medication, organizing schedules and measuring and monitoring health conditions—or on training medical personnel and transmitting information directly to patients. Only recently have there been a number of organizations researching and developing games and apps to help patients manage diseases, track self-care activities, and motivate behavioral changes.

Fitbits, jogging apps, and applications to manage or influence behavior in healthy lifestyles are all around us, aiming to make (for example) jogging fun by adding a storyline, challenges, and offering rewards. Rewards range from badges to progress bars to in-app currencies. That is Gamification.

While the application of gaming for health monitoring and motivational change is becoming more common, health institutions are only starting to think about the use of serious or applied games for supporting the mental strength and resilience necessary when dealing with physical health challenges and trauma, especially for teens.

That is why Digging Deep has embraced the idea of creating a mobile game that will allow patients to live and learn through their technology–to help them play to the inner strengths.

Rosemary Lokhorst
Professional geek and guru of all things digital. Vice President of Operations at Living PlanIT, among many other hats. Guiding development of the Digging Deep digital game.

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