Games for medical students

At GameIT College, we’re always busy working on several very exciting projects simultaneously.

I’m currently particularly involved in one, which has to do with education of medical students.

How is that, you might think, as I know next to nothing about medicine?

Fair question.

We received a mail from this visionary fellow, Mads Ronald Dahl, at Unit of Medical Education, Aarhus University. He simply asked, if we at GameIT College would like to collaborate on making games for medical students. The games were primarily supposed to be concerned with supporting reflection and decision-making in regard to law and ethics in the field of organ donation.

Curious as both I and Anders Vang Pedersen, game master at GameIT, are, we immediately jumped aboard and started running with the ball.

A bit of background. Two related issues had inspired Mads to contact us:

  • As with almost every area within education, the current generation of medical students are dissatisfied with the level of ICT used by educators. No revolutionary news here, yet an outcry, which shouldn’t be ignored.
  • At the same time, several educators desire an increased level of reflection and abstraction with the students, who might be a bit too keen on learning by rote (which then again may very well be a consequence of the fundamental structures of the medical education).

How about adressing both problems simultaneously – by using digital games?

Acknowledging that learning in good games is radically different than the kind of rote learning seemingly practiced by medical students, games might thus prove to be a very appropriate choice. I have earlier written that games are, among other things characterized by:

  • Solving problems
  • Action in context
  • Receiving feedback
  • Optimal challenge
  • Safe zones

This is old news to most game designers (visit the blog of Lasse Pallesen, a friend and game designer, for a more thorough introduction to game design principles). At the same time, these principles are principles of good learning experiences. 

This is the basic premise of so much of my work, and how, then, could I possibly turn down this project? As the process of developing games also incorporates valuable learning processes for the GameIT students (as described here & here), the opportunity was just great. Students get a chance to be challenged and feel the true value of their work, while the people from medical education will (hopefully) also learn a bit and eventually end up with games, which can (potentially) be applied by educators. That’s a win-win, if I ever saw one.

Our students didn’t initially share this excitement. When they first heard about our decision, they expressed quite mixed feelings.

“Games for learning? Too boring!”

“Games for medical students? Too difficult!”

Thankfully, as we started to dig a bit deeper, it seems their attitudes began changing. Among other things, we had a chat about games with the potential to challenge their own world-views, to make them stop and reflect, and to simply make them think. This seemed to resonate with many, and games as different as the new Deus Ex, Heavy Rain, One Chance, and the quite exemplary learning game Do I have a right? got a mention.

This was good; we moved on from the initial assertion, that “all learning games are boring” towards the much more fascinating idea, that “all games have the potential to foster reflection”, and learning games thus doesn’t have to be any different than the best of games.

Another important step was when Mads an a couple of his colleagues visited the students in order to simply meet each other, to adjust expectations of both parties, and to discuss game concepts. Lise Kirstine Gormsen from The Danish Pain Research Center did a short presentation on ethics in general and specifically in relation to organ donation, and afterwards we had a short discussion on interesting cases. Concluding this sessions, I was sincerely impressed, when groups of students without further ado got up and pitched their initial game design ideas.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one being happy with what I saw and heard, as our “customer” expressed unconditional satisfaction and left with high expectations for the remainder of the project (so much, that several students afterwards felt a bit overwhelmed by the praise, but hey – who doesn’t want a real-world customer to express their sincere satisfaction?).

So how’s all this playing out?

Anders wrote an elaborate project description for the students, in which the educational purpose, the deadlines, the constraints & demands, the target group etc. is thoroughly sketched out. The overall purpose of the project is described in this way:

The project centers on the development of computer games for the medical students, in regards to a course called “Law and Ethics”. The course tries to teach the the students how to be reflective people with a thorough and critical angle on the different sciences, especially concerning “law and ethics”.

At the moment of writing, our students are in Seattle, working hard to develop working prototypes, which must be done by november 5th, when they travel back to Denmark. I’m flying over this Saturday, and besides the general excitement of travelling, I’m really looking forward to following the progress at first hand.

We’re experimenting with many of my core ideas about designing contexts for good learning experiences in one big melting pot, and I’ll make sure to report in detail, once the project is over (or when I know more, at least).

Stay tuned.