Games for Children with Long-Term Health Problems

Games for Children with Long-Term Health Problems

Carolyn Watters, Sageev Oore, Hadi Kharrazi
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-731-2.ch018
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Games are designed to generate a high level of motivation and engagement in their players. Game players often display intensity in their interaction with and devotion (compulsion) to a game and play the game over and over. In this chapter, the authors present a framework of motivational constructs found in games that are applicable to the design of interactive health software. The framework includes four dimensions of constructs: control, competency, context, and engagement. The authors developed a platform supporting a variety of games that include these constructs, and through two focus groups we examined the impact of these interactions with children with long-term health disorders. The goal is to determine if games developed with health-related goals provide an opportunity to engage children over time with some responsibility for their own condition; that is, can we build games that function like personalized coaches?
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Games have become very popular and have been shown to be effective in capturing the attention of children in the promotion of healthy lifestyles to help them learn about a variety of health conditions and treatments (Fishman, 1999; Games for Health, 2005).

Our goal in this work, however, has been to explore a new generation of health-related games that move beyond the educational phase to the longer-term support of children with chronic conditions. These children have individual treatment regimes, often on a daily basis, that stretch over extended periods of time. Can games be used to motivate these children to satisfy the treatment requirements and to maintain positive outlooks? For example, can games reinforce healthy choices, remind the child of treatment specifics, distract their attention, and at the same time maintain individual health status and treatment records? The success of digital games across a broad demographic has led researchers to speculate that game interaction can be used to advantage in health contexts. This is based on an observation made by Turkle (1995, p. 69) that users of SimCity® liked it because “even though it is not a video game, it plays like one.” Supporting high levels of motivation in the players is crucial for young patients facing months and years of treatment. Games, whether single-player or collaborative, provide players with the autonomy to practice, use the computer as a coach, and yes, zone out.

While the focus of game play is largely entertainment, it is entertainment that includes challenges, skills, self-motivation, and simulation. Consequently, the use of game structures in other contexts has appeal where the goals of the context include as core values self motivation, learning, the practice of skills, and successful meeting of challenges. Chapman (1999) suggests that there should be increasing emphasis on learners “situating” themselves in the world of study, in order to explore possibilities from other perspectives. Games do this.

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