What do companies need in order to win at playful design for healthcare?

I would never have associated Samuel Clemens or his pen name with gamification, but a new white paper from Canadian health technology business Ayogo highlights the author’s insights on the subject in a look at the chemistry of gamification. More importantly, it underscores what’s needed to build the kind games that can improve patient engagement […]

I would never have associated Samuel Clemens or his pen name with gamification, but a new white paper from Canadian health technology business Ayogo highlights the author’s insights on the subject in a look at the chemistry of gamification.

More importantly, it underscores what’s needed to build the kind games that can improve patient engagement in healthcare.

Mark Twain said:  “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and … play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

The paper highlights the ingredients of playful design which ideally trigger a series of agreeable chemical responses. Games in the realm of digital health need to accomplish a specific challenge that become progressively more difficult, there have to be meaningful choices at critical points, risk.

There has to be a certain amount of ambiguity so participants can figure their path out themselves to a certain extent.  There has to be a meaningful and recognizable outcome.

Companies like Ayogo are collaborating with pharmaceutical companies and health systems  to test and demonstrate the effectiveness of their game platforms not only to improve things like medication adherence but also to give patients a better understanding of their condition, public health issues like the need for vaccinations, and to improve rehabilitation from surgery or a stroke, for example.

It notes some of the chemicals triggered when we’re interested and engaged, such as adrenaline, endorphins, serotonin — which affects reward assessment in decision making. Dopamine can be triggered by improved performance from one try to the next.

It also calls attention to oxytocin, and notes that it plays an important role in facilitating cooperation, generosity, and other pro-social behaviors. What makes oxytocin particularly interesting is the research behind it in the context of social networks, specifically Facebook. It’s a connection made by Dr. Paul Zak who uses examples like seeing positive incoming messages from friends and family and receiving virtual rewards from games on the social network around furnishing a house or building a farm. You can check out his TED talk here.

The most difficult challenge for companies like Ayogo is not only the complexity of bringing all these elements together to produce an effective game that people will use repeatedly, but also getting the big picture results pharma companies and health systems seek.