Critics claim ultragraphic video and computer games breed aggressive and generally bad behavior in the nation's youth. But now the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is making a call for an entirely different kind of video game for kids -- one that actually improves health and helps individuals get the care they need. The nation's largest healthcare philanthropy will award prizes totaling $30,000 to individuals who create game concepts or prototypes that improve lives. They won't be Doom, Grand Theft Auto or Mortal Kombat, but they will be entertaining, officials claim.
"Today's technology has the ability to both educate and entertain," says Chinwe Onyekere, program officer for the foundation. "We want to encourage people with creative minds to harness that potential in a way that leads to better management and delivery of health and healthcare."
Of course, not all video and computer games are focused on bloodshed and brutality. In fact, Outliers is aware of several that exemplify the kind of entries sought for the foundation's contest; one is Ben's Game, conceived two years ago by Ben Duskin, a 12-year-old leukemia patient. In that action-adventure game, designed by a software developer who worked closely with the boy, players learn about chemotherapy as they navigate a virtual skateboard course, collecting seven "shields" to protect themselves from side effects of the drugs (makewish.org/ben). The object, Ben once told an interviewer, is simple: "Conquer cancer." Details of the Games for Health Competition, which runs through April 1, 2007, can be found at gamesforhealth.org/competition.