Game design plays a central role in games for health. We reviewed literature presenting head-mounted display VR games specifically designed as health applications and looked at how game design has been implemented and discussed in research.
Most address health contexts related to physical exercise, motor rehabilitation, and pain
Mechanics are typically based on obstacles, challenges, and extrinsic reward systems
Narrative experiences and non-physical exercise interventions were less common
Overall discourse on game design lags behind what’s seen in more games industry-related spaces
This year has been quite demanding in terms of adapting to new circumstances. However, it’s also been a circumstance that has seen many people adopt new technologies, from teleconference to XR apps. Here are a few interesting new XR for health applications that have been aimed at addressing pandemic-related challenges:
The Rehabilitation Robotics Lab at the University of Alberta has created an AR app to help Canadians manage mental health during COVID-19.
Perhaps the widespread need to adapt with digital tools in lieu of regular in-person practice during this time will accelerate future development and adoption of a whole ecosystem of health-related XR applications.
It’s great to see VR for health applications featured in the news again. Beyond efficacy, improving effectiveness of VR for health in practice relies on users’ willingness to adopt this technology. Normalizing the usage of VR in health with realistic expectations through news articles like this is a great way to support VR adoption.
This seems like it could be a useful tool for staff and administrators who are more removed from the front-line setting. However, I’d hope anyone who has the authority to place patients in these rooms receive training involving a bit of time spent in these rooms.
Here’s another interesting application of VR from the Eurogamer article (below). If VR can be used to mimic the symptoms of certain diseases, then immersion in the lived experience of neurological and cognitive disorders may foster better empathetic understanding of those living with such conditions. This can be both an educational and a humanizing tool.
Recreational VR therapy for older adults is certainly gaining traction as the technology becomes more accessible. However, the latter two games in this article demonstrate a compelling avenue for health education. Combining symptom simulation and an emotional narrative in VR, such games can help caregivers and the wider public gain insight into some of the experiences of those living with cognitive/neurological conditions.
A team at USC led by Dr. Sook-Lei Liew is looking to address severe motor impairments due to stroke using VR. The REINVENT (Rehabilitation Environment using the Integration of Neuromuscular-based Virtual Enhancements for Neural Training) project aims to leverage action observation networks to facilitate neuroplastic improvements in impaired brain motor regions. The team’s system supplies augmented visual feedback and embodiment in VR based on users EEG/EMG inputs.
Dr. Bernie Garrett, Dr. Diane Gromala, and Dr. Tarnia Taverner from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University sit down to talk about their research using virtual reality for chronic pain therapy.
“Acute pain is a perfect match for VR,” says Hoffman. “You only need it for 20 minutes and it has drastic effects.” Chronic pain is a different, more challenging problem. Still, he thinks VR has the potential to enhance many treatments that already work. “If you say, ‘go home and meditate,’ not many patients will follow through,” Hoffman says. “But if you give them a VR system and say ‘go into this ancient world and meditate with monks,’ they’re more likely to actually do it.” VR is just a delivery method: What matters most is what the patients see and experience on the other side of the headset.