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PMLiVE on Ian Bogost and gaming for health

By Phil Taylor

Bogost_HowFor years, computer games have been associated with negative effects on health, blamed for spawning a generation of lazy, overweight children who lack social skills because they spend their time indoors, sprawled in armchairs, staring at screens. More recently, however, computer games have become another way for people to carry out all sorts of activities, from escapism to art, exercise and education, as well as a wide range of innovative healthcare applications.

Reflecting that trend, the inaugural Games for Health Europe conference takes place in the Netherlands in October, complementing a North American event that has been running since 2004. The aim of the conference is to bring together games developers, medical professionals and researchers, according to Jurriaan van Rijswijk, a 15-year veteran of the gaming industry and the organiser of the event.

"The objective is to determine how we develop games that can be used effectively in training doctors and nurses, treating physical or psychological complaints of patients, and in the prevention of illness in general," he said.

It also hopes to raise awareness of the gaming for health concept, stimulate funding for this type of research in Europe and create a knowledgetransfer 'bridge' between Europe and the US.

Changing attitudes
The stereotyped image of feckless, often introverted children - generally male - was actually a product of the Nintendo era, from the mid-1980s, according to Ian Bogost, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US and author of forthcoming book How To Do Things with Videogames.

Bogost points out that in the early 1970s, the first coin-operated games were played almost exclusively by adults and were placed in bars and taverns next to other diversions like pinball and darts.

"Even though it may not seem that way, coin-op arcade cabinets were far more physically demanding than we might remember, involving the whole body - not to mention the bike ride to the arcade or the corner store to play them," says Bogost.

Arguably, a pivotal moment in accelerating the games for health movement was the launch of the Nintendo Wii in 2006, heralding the entry of physical interface games into the mainstream. Initially launched with a handheld motion-sensing controller, the Wii was soon complemented with a balance board which opened up new applications in aerobics, balance and strength training.

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