Creating Games to Help Patients Adhere to Medication Regemins

I'm watching Jane McGonigal's keynote from the Games For Change conference (which you can watch over here). The screenshot taken above is from a point in her talk in which she talks about how a game designed for cancer patients improved patients' adherence to taking their medicine, which in turn improves their chances of recovery, after only 2 hours of game play (research via this page on the SuperBetter blog).

I had this thought: Can games be developed, or have games already been developed that would help other types of patients learn to remember to take their medicine ?

For example, individuals who suffer from short-term memory loss because of attention deficit disorder, or for AIDS or asthma patients who need to adhere to a very strict schedule of medicine in order to stay alive, who have perhaps learned to tune out alarms. Or for people who just lead busy, distraction-filled lives. 

Games like Superbetter and EpicWin help by letting patients activate power ups and unlock rewards, but it seems like ReMission is impacting their behavior in a different way, by helping them visualize how much their medication is helping them. It seems like there is a lot of potential to save or significantly improve patients' lives by helping solve this problem.

An inexactly worded quote from Jane's talk following her introduction of this game, sharing the discoveries of scientists who were studying exactly what was going on in the brain of game players who were deriving benefit from playing ReMission: "Pleasure centers / areas of the brain associated with reward were not lit up when the gamers unlocked a reward, they were lit up when gamers had taken an action like aiming or shooting a gun and were waiting to see the impact of their action, and were feeling hopeful that they had hit a target...anticipation that I would see the impact of my action." She goes on to note that the game also activates the Hippocamus, which is associated with long term memory and learning, which she says "suggests that gamers are really locking in this experience and committing it to long-term memory".

Sarah Best is Content and Social Media Director for Mightybytes. As one of Foursquare's inaugural business partners, she has written and produced four Foursquare badges driving Chicago visitors and residents to explore the city while recreating Ferris Bueller's Day Off, eating as many Chicago-style hot dogs as they can, seeking out the roots of the Chicago Blues and more.

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Comment by Sarah Best on June 21, 2012 at 8:09am

@CK: In her talk @avantgame summarized some research that said that "Online games outperform pharmaceuticals in treating clinical anxiety & depression." (Paper at However, there's also a huge stigma in our society against people who suffer from mental illness taking medication that can significantly improve their lives, so I think any therapies should be complimentary, rather than something that replaces medication. 

Comment by CK on June 21, 2012 at 12:13am

Besides cancer patients, I particularly wonder how this might work for bipolar, schizophrenic and diabetic people, along with substance abuse folks. I am reminded of vintage Seligman in which he talks about how drugs don't cure a given problem as much as exchange it for a second problem that is easier to manage.  It occurs to me that, at least to some extent, the right game does the same thing, or at least something very similar.


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