Health games become serious business

Thu Jun 25, 2009 9:51am EDT
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By John Gaudiosi

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Videogames were once blamed for rising obesity rates but are now being championed by the medical industry and for use by government departments for their health benefits.

Games like Electronic Arts' "EA Sports Active" and Nintendo's "Wii Fit" have got players of all ages moving -- and game developers and investors looking for hot new titles to cash in on this booming segment of the market.

Big John Games' upcoming "Butt Kicker" Nintendo DSi game will provide an action-based environment in which players fight against cigarettes and "Karate Bears" for Wii teaches players real karate routines using the Wii's motion-sensor controllers.

With interest in health games rising, the fifth annual Games for Health Conference in Boston expanded to 390 people this year from 100, including developers, investors and medical experts, while numbers at many other conferences are down up to 40 percent.

"Healthcare is 18 percent of the GDP of the United States and so games for health is probably the largest sector of activity in the serious games field long-term," said Ben Sawyer, co-founder of The Games for Health Project.

"If you add up the 18 month sales of "Wii Fit" and the sales of "EA Sports Active," Konami's "Dance Dance Revolution" and other healthy games, the worldwide retail numbers are over $2 billion."

Dr. Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop which fosters innovation in children's learning, has just released a report looking at how digital games can play a beneficial and educational role in health care.

"The White House should launch a national initiative to promote research and development of proven games," said Levine.   Continued...

<p>Attendees watch segments from Square Enix video games during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles June 3, 2009. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>