Serious Games and Health: Where are the Dosing Studies?

Before any drug is evaluated to see if it has its intended effects, researchers conduct studies to see what dose of the drug is needed to get the optimally efficient response. They want to make sure they are giving enough of the drug to patients so that they can see a therapeutic response. They also want to make sure they are not giving their patients too much of the drug to the patients so they can minimize side effects and avoid having toxic levels of the drug in the patients’ system. This makes economic sense and promotes the health and safety of the patients who will take their drug. Once researchers find the optimal dose, only then do they conduct a long and expensive randomized trial to see if has a greater impact on therapeutic outcomes than a placebo or standard treatment approaches.

Why aren’t we doing dosing studies with serious games for health? Why don’t we figure out how much someone needs to play a game in order to see a change in behaviors, knowledge, or attitudes? Why aren’t we also looking at whether playing too much of our games is detrimental? Because serious games for health are intended to be used in a domain that is concerned with evaluating therapies in clinical trials and practicing evidence-based medicine, we should be doing these studies. It is a belief in healthcare that this information is important and it is a practice that they engage in frequently with treatments that they take very seriously.

We are getting away with not conducting dosing studies (and other rigorous research studies) on our games intended to improve health and wellness because our games are thought of as educational tools. When textbooks are introduced in classrooms, courses are included in curricula, and lectures are used to increase knowledge of students; virtually nobody asks how much each learning tool should be used in order to see an increase in learning. Do you have to read a whole textbook to master the field of anatomy or are a few select chapters sufficient? Do you need to have a whole course on anatomy to master the subject or are a few weeks in another class sufficient? Do you need to listen to 50, 25, 5 or 0 hours of lectures in order to master the subject?

Should dosing studies be done in education? Of course! It would be a revolutionary approach to education and it would cut down on a lot of wasted time in and out of the classroom. Will it happen? I think it will happen more and more in the future as new technologies and approaches such as game-based learning, distance learning, and simulation training lead people to question traditional educational approaches.

Should dosing studies be done on serious games for health? Absolutely! It would not be a revolutionary approach in the field of health care because evidence-based medicine and therapeutic trials are part of the traditional approaches in healthcare. Everyone who has a stake in making serious games for health should be thinking about how much of people should play their game to get an optimal therapeutic or learning response.

Thus, makers of serious games for health should consider doing dosing studies for the following reasons: 1) it helps ensure that you are evaluating an effective dose of your game in a trial to validate its use in healthcare, 2) it provides prescribers and users of your game information about how much they should play your game to see an effect and 3) it increases the likelihood that your game for health will be accepted in the culture of healthcare because you have done something that they think is important and valuable. In short, dosing studies are a scientific, practical, efficient, and culturally acceptable approach to moving the field of games for health forward.

For a more on research-based approaches to developing and testing games for health, please read:

Kato, P.M. (in press1). The role of the researcher in making effective serious games for health. In S. Arnab, I. Dunwell and K. Debattista (Eds.) Serious Games for Healthcare: Applications and Implications. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

By pamkato

I am a Harvard- and Stanford-trained Ph.D. psychologist, social entrepreneur, and serious game visionary. I want to work with other people to change the world while having fun doing it.

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