We attended the Games for Health 2010 conference in Boston, Massachusetts to learn more about how video games and virtual worlds are being used to increase physical activity, train health care providers, and advocate HIV/AIDS information and prevention methods among youth. Now in its 6th year, the three-day conference was developed in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to convene public healthcare professionals and providers with game developers to bring innovative solutions to everyday issues in public health.
We talked to Lynn Fiellin, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine . Dr. Fiellin is Principal Investigator for a NIH-funded project to develop a behavioral changing HIV prevention video game. We asked her to tell us about her project, why she chose video games as an intervention for HIV and what advice she had for the HIV/AIDS community.
Lynn Fiellin, MD
“The goal of our project is to provide young teens the opportunity to practice and acquire skills in order to avoid or reduce their risk behavior. The hope is that this reduction in risk would then translate to preventing new cases of HIV. In order to accomplish this goal we are developing and will ultimately test a video game that will be specifically designed to present risky situations to the player so that they can rehearse refusal and negotiation skills that help them to make better decisions in real life.
We decided to use a video game as a “vehicle” for our HIV risk reduction and prevention intervention because it has become abundantly clear that young teens (as well as many other age groups) are already engaged in video game play. If this is where they are, then they are a captive audience and why not bring the intervention to them as opposed to requiring them to come to the intervention? Video games possess several advantages as a method of delivering an intervention including that they are engaging, they allow the player to repeatedly practice or rehearse a new skill, and they are transportable—potentially traveling with the player via cell phone or some other mobile device.
I think there are enormous opportunities for the HIV community in the realm of gaming—both in terms of optimizing prevention efforts and improving treatment outcomes. Through video games we can impact the players’ knowledge and skills around HIV prevention as well as potentially improving HIV treatment by targeting behaviors such antiretroviral medication adherence or secondary prevention. There are also myriad potential applications of gaming for improving HIV outcomes in international settings. Given that in developing countries where the HIV epidemic continues to have a particularly significant impact on morbidity and mortality the majority of individuals have cell phones, there are opportunities to transport a video game about HIV prevention or medication adherence to a large segment of the population in order to impact HIV outcomes.”
What do you think about using video games and virtual worlds to increase awareness or change behaviors in the fight against HIV/AIDS? Do you know of any groups or organizations that are working with games to do just that? Let us know your thoughts.