healthGAMERS Part Two: Interview With Melanie Lazarus, MPH

hg twitterJune 30, 2009 Today in my Twitter feed (yes, I finally joined, see sidebar badge!) I immediately benefited from the ‘following’ phenom to shortcut my research time when a new friend/follower in Australia, Tania Andrusiak, pointed to today’s Scientific American story called “Take two video games and call me in the morning” —(‘ReTweet’ visual at left)

Guess it’s time for me to ‘eat crow’ realizing Twitter’s not for the birds in terms of ‘too much information’ to manage, as it may in fact help rather than hinder my data flow being able to filter topics and follow key links without making myself crazy trying to ‘keep up.’

This article today is about as ‘spot on’ for a healthGAMERS Part Two update as I could’ve hoped for, so THANK you all for nudging this stubborn soul into the stream, and sorry for being such a ‘twit’ and lurking incognito for so long. (Lisa Ray from Parents for Ethical Marketing said, “Twitter is your friend” and Andre, from healthGAMERS gave me the final Facebook nudge in a comment on my profile page)

child with footballAs an outdoorsy gal, I’m a hard sell on the benefits of gaming vs. free and active play (particularly with motor skills issues, as I’m definitely an outdoor ‘throw a football’ type over a ‘Madden’s NFL game’ spiral pass point of view…but even some of the visual and neuroscience studies reflecting positive benefits are not implying kids should swap hockey sticks for joy sticks…

The article simply reiterates the possibility that video games may actually induce brain changes that lead to some ancillary benefits as well (e.g. STEM study, etc.) discussing the broad application of games developed for education and rehabilitation that can actually enhance functionality in some medical treatment modes…

Ah…timely for this healthGAMERS piece!

brain plasticityThe article touched a tad on the issue of brain plasticity and kids development (changes in response to experience, environments, rewiring the way we connect, etc.) versus adults’ less adaptable mindsets…which has a considerable element of watch-worthiness on both sides of the Health 2.0 and media/marketing fence in my mind… so I’m VERY eager to hear more.

Hmn…If “health e-games”  prove valuable for preventive care, maintenance and monitoring of kids’ health, could they also be a conduit to ‘reset’ some of the damage and developmental cues served up by media and marketing in the junk food for the mind and body realm?

hope-lab-logoRichard Tate of HopeLab hints at this a bit in his RWJF post this week called “Fun, Kids & Evidence-Based R&D = Games for Health Success?” where he talks about using interactive games as tools for good…

And as I wrote here in Hey Kids: Is There A Market For Healthy Games, Melanie Lazarus et al at Archimage/Playnormous have been digging deep into the vast potential of serious games to favorably impact kids health with an impressive melding of creative whimsy with seasoned  researchers

mhealthIf you then add the Advances of mHealth (presentation by Andre Blackman public health media man and author at healthGAMERS and Pulse + Signal) you can see how using media as an innovative outreach channel for kids’ health has some amazing opportunities, far beyond a shoulder shake reminder to take a medication!

(By the way, as a name generation branding gal, I had to ask “mind of Andre” about his blog name when we finally met at Health 2.0, it’s quite simple, really: Pulse=Life, Health, “what keeps you going,” Signal=Technology, standing out, a prompt to action)

healthGAMERS appears to be right in the sweet spot of this emerging new media field to report collaboratively, pooling vital news on health and gaming advancements making headlines by the day…

hgThe site shows vast opportunity to keep us all abreast of new developments in this arena as well as recruit authors directly to engage in ‘using a perceived problem to create a viable solution’…In short, ‘using the power of media for positive change’ as we say here at Shaping Youth.

In fact, just today I received this udate from Humana extending their game of G-Force for a month…

Before I even updated Shaping Youth’s G-Force/Humana article they’d updated the headline with Humana’s fresh news, imported it into healthGAMERS AND added me to the blog. (see below) Now that’s timely!

hg humana

Here’s how Humana positioned the G-Force game extension:
…”Just like the original version of OPS, the Master Series missions consist of physical and mental challenges that require real-world activity. Every Monday and Thursday, missions will be released and available on the Missions page beginning June 28 through July 26.

Agents can complete missions for points and virtual prizes, or create their own if none of our missions strike their fancy. The best part? Your child is already registered to play! Every player who registers is automatically entered into a drawing to win either an 8G iPod Touch or a Nintendo DSi. Winners will be contacted via phone or email within 24 hours of drawing…etc. ”

Alive!Sure seems digital media has a growing role in being a ‘cure’ as much as a ’cause’ in shifting behavior toward positive outcomes.

It can’t ALL be ‘new media spin’ or vested interests…

There’s the policy briefs on GameChangers and mobile from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center part of the Sesame Workshop (granted, they’ve achieved great success taking their brand into multiple mediums and platforms) but then there’s also the recent study of Kaiser Permanente’s ALIVE (A Lifestyle Intervention Via Email) which is newly published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine for successfully ‘prompting’ actions via email…And similarly, texting and SMS reminders have had favorable outcomes with ‘techno-nagging’ on everything from medicines to chores.

Maybe Marshall McLuhan nailed it with his classic phrase: “The medium is the message.”

Even when the stats look grim, like this “Take Part” article that sums, “of the 2.5 million annual deaths in the U.S. nearly half could be prevented if people simply led healthier lives” …we simultaneously have the Healthy movement towards preventable disease at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health confirming that we CAN motivate people to change in lasting, deeply beneficial ways using SMS texts, phone, friend, online community, or e-mail communications.

escape-from-diab.jpgToss in dynamic health games, phone apps, privacy and anonymity to impart sensitive health messaging in fresh new ways, and you’ve got the ingredients to curb all kinds of risky business from STDs to global youth health advocacy or even mHealth for Developing Nations (70 pp pdf here)

These are ALL promising uses of media as a distribution channel for effective outreach that’s fun, pertinent, engaging, and memorable.

Just because it’s healthcare doesn’t mean it needs to be a snore!

To me, there’s NO excuse for public health to be stuck in a quagmire of bureaucracy when social media has the potential to stream and funnel collective knowledge to effectively  connect the dots with ALL the Health 2.0 players to do the best for kids (and adults as well!)

Building community among healthGAMERS and researchers hubbed in a central locale is a start…The effectiveness of the forum depends on who contributes to the conversation to make it sustainable.

The way I see it, if we can start aggregating information to maximize impact and get info into the hands of those who can make a difference fast, we’re headed in the right direction. Let’s make it happen, share your thoughts!

healthGAMERS Part Two: Interview With Melanie Lazarus, MPH

Shaping Youth: Will there be a ‘best practices’ section in the healthGAMERS forum similar to your popular series on the Monster blog “What Makes a Great Health Game Great?” so we can all swap experiences and share outcomes?

melanie lazarusMelanie Lazarus/healthGAMERS: If you look at the headers in healthGAMERS, you’ll see several tabs from “Health Games” and “Resources” to “Research.” Health Games is a collection of almost 100 existing health games that can be played or ordered. They range from very bad to brilliant, from mainstream to pure research projects. I hope this list will grow as more people visit the site.

The Resources and Research pages list peer-reviewed journal articles, popular press, and books all about health games. I hope these lists will also grow so when someone is looking for a research paper on health games or a book that can help them mold an idea into a game, they can visit healthGAMERS.

As for my eight-part series on the Playnormous Monster blog, it gives the tenets of great gameplay and examples of current health games that do it well, in my opinion. (Amy’s note: healthGAMERS also has sections on brain training, exergaming, making games, disease management (ugh, there’s that term again) nutrition, research theory, prevention, and USING healthy games)

Shaping Youth: How and when did healthGAMERS take off? Who are the authors?

wiimommies julieMelanie Lazarus/healthGAMERS: I set the foundation for the blog back in January with the series you liked, “What Makes a Good Health Game Great,” but it wasn’t until Andre Blackman of Pulse + Signal posted his first article for us, “HG Interview: Julie from WiiMommies” in late April that we really started to establish a core reading audience.  (that’s Julie in the photo from healthGAMERS) He did a little promoting on Twitter, I did a little promoting on LinkedIn, and then things really started to take off.

I am the editor and primary author of healthGAMERS. (as you know, my educational background is in public health and social marketing, and I am currently the Director of Marketing for serious game developer Archimage and its online subsidiary Playnormous Health Games)

andre-bMy right hand man is Co-Author Andre Blackman of Pulse+Signal. (at left)

Our overseas contributor is in France, Dr. Mohamed Selamnia, who happens to be deep in the Health 2.0 space as the founder of Decisions and Innovation Consulting and Health in Paris. Mohamed’s experience ranges from physiology to oncology to marketing, and he’s been a great addition to the team.

Our other contributing author is Beth Frost-Johnson who is the president of Frost-Johnson and Associates, a healthcare technology marketing and business development firm. Her articles consistently get a lot of hits, and she typically writes for medical professionals interested in using health games in their practices. We’ve had some great guest contributors as well including Dr. John La Puma, Lifetime TV’s host of “What’s Cooking with ChefMD?”

Shaping Youth: As you know, I’m excited about contributing to the effort too, and welcome any ‘open source scraping of content’ you want to take. How do others become an author?

WriterMelanie Lazarus/healthGAMERS: We are always looking for new authors and contributors…The more viewpoints on healthGAMERS we have, the closer we are to fulfilling our mission!

We welcome anyone and everyone that wants to write about health games, and have three categories of authors: Co-authors, contributing authors, and guest contributors. You can choose based on frequency and other criteria found here, or just email me at with your interest.

Shaping Youth: Will there eventually be a way to pool informal research? Polls among youth/parents who’d like to weigh in with informal feedback so we get a ‘real time’ feel for what’s ‘fun’ and what’s fouled up?

Will there be a way to rate games or feedback like that, from an end-user perspective, whether it’s a clinician or a child? (kind of like Common Sense Media’s review grid with different types of authorities/opinions)

monsterdress.gifMelanie Lazarus /healthGAMERS:

You are 100% correct when you say health games are rated based on the judge’s background.

Researchers want to see solid behavior, knowledge or health change; parents want something safe and educational; kids want something fun; developers want something with quality gameplay and graphics.

I think having a polling section is a brilliant idea.  I’d have to do some brainstorming on how to make that happen though.We’d definitely need a widget of some sort. I know we’re going to try to program a polling widget for Playnormous at some point so maybe we can create one for healthGAMERS too.

I would love to get feedback on any of the health games listed in the Health Games section.  Like I said, some range from very bad to just amazing (in my opinion).

I’d like to start attracting parents/teachers and youth/educators all over the board, so maybe that’s something you could assist with?

Shaping Youth: I definitely see potential to use the community as a way to get feedback fast from kids with thumbs up/thumbs down; sharing feedback to refine a game early on and tap into that crowdsourcing capability which could save all kinds of money and draw from different knowledge pools.

Count me in on supporting healthGAMERS any way I can—thanks for your time.

unplugged.jpgFor the record, I’d also love to see more research on the impact on kids’ health of different types of video games, with a circumspect eye toward brain changes, susceptibility in early childhood, the pros and cons of developmental changes (vision, motor skills, etc.) and the whole brainwave and screen time research involving cellphones, EMFs, passive zombified  ‘vidiots’ vs. interactive engagement, and health merits of ‘unplugging’ for balance to preclude ‘nature deficit disorder’ too…

healthGAMERS could be a great connective hub to unite the entertainment research, with HopeLab, HG4H, and other entrepreneurial innovators and government initiatives (NIH/CDC funded) to connect all the dots quickly in “community building” style rather than research fiefdoms.

In part three I’ll share our own ‘outcomes’ and challenges experimenting with health games translating from a hands-on demo to a digital scale inside a virtual world for ‘tweens’ …

happy neuronAnd in part four I’ll interview Dr. Robyn McMaster of Brain-Based Biz about games like Humana’s HAPPYneuron and other aids for memory impairment to flush out the functional gains and prevention of cognitive decline at all ages and stages.

Youth-wise, I’d particularly like to explore where brain development and gaming fits into students’ lives, as it relates to multi-tasking, (pro/con) stress reduction, academic achievement, test-taking, screen ‘addiction’ and all those cognitive questions starting to pop up in mobile media channels and handheld games.

Other thoughts besides a dire need for healthcare reform? 😉

healthGAMERS Links List

Andre Blackman’s Health + Innovation Picks

Carol Torgan’s Kinetics

Craig Lefebvre’s On Social Marketing


Disruptive Women in Health Care

Emerging Technologies Librarian

Flash Free

Health 2.0 Blog

Health Populi


Health Gamers


Kru Research

Nedra Weinreich’s Spare Change

Organized Wisdom blog


Shaping Youth

Technology in Prevention

Well by the New York Times

RWJF”s Innovation & the Future Picks:

A Few More Shaping Youth Add-Ons

And here’s Andre Blackman’s slideshare to plant the seeds of positive potential on the mHealth circuit…which already has games and apps for better health in development coming out the wazoo.

The Advance Of mHealth

View more documents from Andre Blackman of healthGAMERS and Pulse + Signal


  1. Amy – being the information hound that I am, this post is absolutely chock full of GOOD STUFF! Thank you so much for putting the time and effort into highlighting such great projects :)I cannot even begin to put into the words the excitement that builds up for me when I see these things coming together – its time to put creativity and innovation to use for public health and that is something I will never stop saying.

    I can only hope to continue highlighting and hopefully changing minds on how we can improve the health of the masses. We have the tools, but most importantly we need the people. You are doing fantastic work and I look forward to getting some things off the ground together!
    .-= Andre Blackman´s last blog ..NextGenWeb’s Portal to Health IT =-.

  2. Spin it all you want, but if Brown wins, the dumb & bad guys win overall.

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