Video Games in Healthcare: Why I Want My Doctor to Spend More Time Playing Video Games

Hi everyone,

I came across a bit of video game news that I found to be quite interesting—especially following the recent presentations that we’ve seen on the “video-gamification” of the world. On December 1, it was announced that we can now purchase “the world’s first video game to be custom designed for a children’s hospital” for Nintendo Switch: a game called “Castle on The Coast”. In this game, you can play as the mascot of California’s Valley Children’s Hospital, George the Giraffe, and explore, well, a castle on the coast. While this might be the first video game to be designed for a children’s hospital, it is far from the first video game to incorporate hospital or medical elements. For instance, Castle on The Coast is predated by games like “Theme Hospital”, “Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon”, “Medic: Pacific War”, “Hospital Tycoon”, and “Surgeon Simulator”.

This seems to be part of a broader movement towards the video-gamification of the healthcare field. This can be seen in both the increasing availability of video games in both training medical professionals, and in the increasing use of video games as therapeutic treatment.

In November of this year it was announced that a VR “surgical planning tool” has received FDA approval in the United States. The technology, which is far from the first use of virtual reality in medicine, can create a 3D version of a CT scan, whereupon a surgeon may use VR to focus on specific regions prior to surgery. There is also evidence that surgeons who play video games may be better at performing some procedures (such as laparoscopic surgery—which arguably involves a screen and a console to begin with?) than their more solemn counterparts.

The use of videogames in treatment is also increasing. For instance, one study found there is evidence that video games can help improve arm and hand function in people affected by cerebral palsy. Another study found that videogames might be a viable treatment to offer people with Parkinson’s disease in order to improve their balance. Videogames may offer preventative benefits as well, whether it’s in encouraging a healthy lifestyle, or in detecting depression.

Some suggest that the virtual healthcare experience will be facing many new changes in the years to come. In an article for Politico, one doctor said that “he is optimistic about the patient’s experience in the metaverse, where users may be able to drop into clinics, hospitals or research experiments in a way they can’t through today’s mental health apps”.

One response to “Video Games in Healthcare: Why I Want My Doctor to Spend More Time Playing Video Games”

  1. Amy Ko

    Cool discussion on the practical use of video games as a tool in the area of medicine. I remember years ago reading about a game called FoldIt – where gamers were able to solve and decipher the structure of the M-PMV (Mason-Pfizer monkey virus) in 10 days, something that had stumped the scientific community for a decade.

    I’ve heard some news that there are plans in the video game community to extend these type of projects to address climate change – it would be interesting to see what that leads to in a few years!