Interview with Anna Sort: Gamification in Health Care – Part 1

For my first blog interview in my Designing a Better Life series, we will be chatting with Anna Sort. Anna is a professional nurse who is working to bring together smartphone and video-game technology into healthcare. She is also an Associate Professor at the University of Barcelona, and works both as a gamification and as a serious games consultant. I find Anna inspiring because she is working hard in the area of mHealth (mobile health) and games for health.

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Anna Sort speaking at the Gamification World Congress

Anna is based in Spain, and graciously agreed to this interview in English for me, and for you, our readers. For more about Anna, check out her blog: Lost Nurse in the Digital Era and these two videos on youtube of her presenting: Designing Games as a Nurse, Gamification of Health Products.You can find her on Twitter here: @LostNurse.

Designing a Better Life Interview with Anna Sort – Part 1

Jonathan: Please tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get involved in the games for health field?

Anna:
I have always been a gamer but programming never attracted me. I was looking for a job as a nurse abroad when Blizzard Entertainment called me to be a customer support representative in France. They offered to take care of housing and banking, making it easy to move and start work in a new country. Also the multinational office work was something I had always wanted to try (and being a CS for the game World of Warcraft also seemed very cool). After 6 months I took the nurse spot in the company, and being a gamer working with gamers made me realize how much easier it would be to communicate and experiment some health information through games rather than 30 minute talks plus a flyer to never read at home.

After a while I started to look for Masters degrees that would allow me to go into a “techie-nurse” path. I found an interesting Master’s degree called CSIM, which was focused on a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. I was the only healthcare student in the class, most of my classmates were designers, artists and programmers, but surprisingly 2 of the 8 Masters Thesis projects would have benefited from a healthcare professional, a rehabilitation system and an exergaming platform. In a way that reassured my idea that this “new profession” I wanted to pursue would eventually exist.

My thesis was about the quantity of exercise the children did while playing on an inflatable slide that had a game projected on and kids interacted with through an infrared system (it’s called an “exergaming platform”). I took part in the game design as well as the exercise experiment for my thesis so it was really interesting. I worked on a multidisciplinary team and I loved it. After my master’s I started my career alone, and soon enough I was contacted by Homero Rivas in Stanford, whom I talked about my vision in games and we are currently developing with MIT the first World of Warcraft health add-on to raise awareness on Diabetes.

Jonathan: The research and work that you do sounds fascinating. Can you explain how your work can help make our lives better?

Anna:
Behavior-wise humans are prone to play, and games offer a wide variety of play, such as exploring, competing, collaborating and self expression. Taking gaming into healthcare is a way to make taking charge of one’s health more interesting, intriguing and motivating. It is not about making fun of having diseases or trivializing them, making it less important because it’s a game. It’s about providing the tools and inspiring the motivation and behavior change to be healthy and improve your lifestyle.

Jonathan: I love your World of Warcraft Diabetes mod project. Can you tell us about this project and your goals? Is there anything we can do to help you?

Anna:
Thank you. It is a very exciting project indeed, and challenging! Especially because the game World of Warcraft has a pool of 9 million users, which means if 5% of these users download and play the add-on, we will have the biggest Health Game research experiment ever made!

The add-on is an “add” on the game which you download that changes the user interface. What we have done is add a glucometer on the side that is impacted by the player’s actions, such as running, fighting and eating foods. World of Warcraft has a lot of foods, drinks and alcoholic beverages so it makes the experimentation part very interesting. It isn’t focused on the disease itself, as we are aware not everyone reacts the same way to foods and drinks, and compositions aren’t equal worldwide. We want to raise awareness, and maybe even make new users having youngsters encourage family to play to see what is it like to live with diabetes.

We are not sure what people we will attract and we also are still debating whether we should gamify the add-on or if the game is good enough as-is people will still enjoy the game with the add-on. All the steps should be taken care of very wisely as the amount of research information might overwhelm us otherwise and turn out to be unusable.

How can people help? We still need a good experiment designer to take part of the team, so anything on that regard is helpful. And programmers. Hands are always needed!

Jonathan: What design concepts do you find the most useful for this project?

Anna:
Possibly the most important part of our design process will be focused on the tutorial. World of Warcraft has an excellent tutorial to help new players get on board, and since the new players we might attract will already have a whole game to learn, we want to make sure the on-boarding of the add-on doesn’t collide with the game tutorial and so it doesn’t overwhelm the player.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

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