Spanish Health Games Congress 2015: jedis, maracas and serious games

II Spanish Health Games CongressWhen the host of the II Spanish Health Games Congress announced the Conference “Gamification in Cardiology” we weren’t expecting what happened. Instead of a dressed up, severe looking, middle-aged man, Dr. José J. Gómez, the speaker was a young, cheerful… JEDI! In a matter of moments we had learnt how to identify easy auricular problems and were engaged in a competitive trivia raising our hands and winning prizes. Most of us had nothing to do with medicine. All of us laughed a lot and learnt to appreciate the cardiologists’ work. This is the power of Gamification and thinking out of the box.

We will avoid here the long discussion about the potential of video games to cure. If you still have doubts about this, you should open your eyes and look around. Serious Games are already here and patients, families and doctors are delighted. So, which are the keys of a good Health Game?


    Virtualware’s VirtualTriage

    A correct scientific and legal base: “There are patients with apparently similar illnesses that shouldn’t have the same treatment”, warned Sergio Baño “misleading patients could be extremely dangerous for their health”.

  • Professional Feedback: Doctors, nurses and experts must be involved in the process of developing health games. They are the ones who deeply know about the treatments and approaches.
  • Patients Feedback: in a clarifying conference, Nuria Zúñiga, vice-president of “Madrid Lupus Association”, remarked the importance of the patients’ opinion. “Doctors know about the treatment of the illness, but only a patient knows the little details that will make a difference in the game”, explained Nuria. “Something as simple as the right alarm sound at the time to take the pills or a simple and fast way to daily introduce symptoms and treatments data, are key in the success of a game”.
  • Usability and appeal: If patients can share with others approachable interfaces and gameplays this could help, not only themselves, but also friends and families to better understand the illness, the treatment or how the patient feels.

    “Aislados” won Best Health Game Award in the last Fun&SeriousGames Festival

  • Fun: Surprisingly, Fun is not always taken into account when creating serious games, though it is the heart of it. Fun engages users and get patients to be treated without noticing. This is clearly visible in physical rehabilitation games like the ones presented by Virtualware or drugs prevention, the target of Aislados, a graphic adventure that helps teenagers confront risky situations. “The storytelling is vital to engage users and make them feel they are just playing”, pointed Alejandro Gañán, co-creator of the game.
  • Data Protection: “Patients don’t like to give away their data” pointed Nuria Zúñiga, “Illnesses are extremely personal and thus, patients are very sensitive about sharing. Health Games shouldn’t ask for patients personal data so lightly without certifying data protection and a strong reason to ask for it”.
  • Meaningful graphics and data: if patients are giving away their illness information, let’s do something useful with it. If data are not interpreted and has little use for patients and/or doctors, the game loses its purpose. Don’t forget we are trying to improve lives here.
  • Community: Patients want to be supported and accompanied by other patients. Share experiences, good and bad moments. A Health Game that provides this kind of social characteristics will be better valued by patients.
  • A safe environment: Not only patients but also professionals benefit of Health Games. Games based in practice, allow doctors to commit mistakes and learn from them.

congressEvery ten minutes, a shake of maracas marked the approaching end of each conference. When speakers exceeded the time assigned, they had to face Game Over in the form of classic Super Mario tune. Some of them, intentionally, waited just to enjoy the music. So many memories! And the congress kept going.

“Once we have an excellent Health Game we cannot stop there”, explained Carlos Mateos, director of the Congress, “it is important to reach not only patients and medical professionals, but also the media and the population. Health Games professionals need to consider communication, marketing and social networks also as important parts of the process of development”.

Help diagnose Malaria with MalariaSpot

Why it is important to involve the whole of the public opinion in Health Games? Sara Gil’s projects are the perfect example. With TuberSpot and MalariaSpot, users with no scientific knowledge can help diagnose Tuberculosis and Malaria. With a hidden-object mechanic, players learn to identify the parasites and mark them in real blood samples. “We are short of specialists in Africa”, Sara Gil explained, “but we have proof that if 22 players spot a parasite, there is a 99,99% of possibilities that it is true. This is an amazing opportunity in countries where people is dying because there are not enough microscopes or available and qualified personnel”.

Another important part of people’s awareness was highlighted by Santiago Alfonso, director of “Acción Psoriasis”: 63% of people in developed countries will suffer from a chronic disease. This will be a huge burden in our medical systems if we, as potential patients, don’t take some responsibility in the processes of diagnosis and treatment”.

Esporti Revolution: Gamified motivation for children to play sports

This was the problem that motivated Manuel Escobar to get involved in health games. Child obesity has become a serious problem in our communities. Children prefer to stay indoors playing video games instead of exercising outdoors. So how can another video game solve the situation? Escobar answers with Esporti Revolution, a gamified platform where children need to exercise to save their cities from an extraterrestrial invasion. Esporti Revolution had a warm welcome during the congress and finally was awarded with the Best Game Award. Gomins, a game to help children to develop emotional intelligence, was the other winner of the day.

The II Spanish Health Games Congress was celebrated in Madrid between 16th and 17th of June, receiving 20% more participants and attendants that the first edition. Serious Games are growing in Spain and, year by year, expanding to the rest of the world. In words of director of the congress Carlos Mateos, “it is vital that professionals share their advances and problems, otherwise will be impossible to advance and get the attention Health Games deserve”. With his mind already in the third edition of the congress in 2016 Mateos highlighted the most important goals to achieve: “we need to create a lively community of health games developers. Professionals are not aware of initiatives that could make a difference in their own research. This has to change”.

Would you like to know more about II Spanish Health Games Congress, conferences, speakers or maybe attend next year? You can visit to know all about it and watch the conferences.

See you there in 2016

About Belén Gómez

Graduate in Communications, Movie Direction and finishing a degree in English Language and Literature, her multidisciplinary career includes TV and movie direction, script-writing, video games localization, game design, international project management and multi-platform video game production. Curious about everything, she divides her time between, Serious Games projects, any Assassin’s Creed title and her Mandarin Chinese lessons.

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