Gaming your way to a PharmD

AACP meeting: Interprofessional education, content-driven courses, clinical trials

Jane McGonigal

Developing “superpowers” that can help people in their daily lives is not a benefit commonly associated with hours spent gaming. If speakers and presenters at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) are correct, superpowers such as a challenge mindset, committed action, and positive reappraisal are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the value games can bring to pharmacy education and society at large.

Jane McGonigal, who describes herself as “the first person in the world to earn a PhD studying how games change the way we think and act in real life,” keynoted the AACP meeting on July 12 at National Harbor, MD. A healthy daily “dose” of games—about 1 hour per day—produces 10 healthy emotions in people, McGonigal said, and these can lead to “super-empowered, hopeful individuals” who are better ready to face the challenges of the real world.

“When people play their favorite games, they feel joy, relief from emotions like anger, and love,” McGonigal said. “Three out of 4 gaming hours are spent playing with people they know in their real lives—with friends or family. … They feel surprise, they feel pride because they are setting goals and developing skills, they feel curiosity about the story or puzzle, they feel excitement, they feel awe and wonder, they feel connected to a community, they feel contentment—and the number one feeling people say they feel is creativity.”

Interprofessional education

AACP is working to tap into this curiosity through a game being developed through a partnership with the Virginia Serious Gaming Institute at George Mason University. Professions Quest, a wholly owned AACP subsidiary, released its flagship product, Mimycx, in April. The massively multiplayer online serious game “uses video game technology to bring multiple students from different health care professions together to solve real-world scenarios,” according to a news release from Prince William County, VA. 

“We need to change health professions’ education,” Ruth Nemire, PharmD, EdD, AACP Associate Executive Vice President, told Pharmacy Today in a group interview with McGonigal. “Our first game, Mimycx, is to get all the health professions—psychologist, social worker, public health, pharmacist, nurse—together to teach them team play. We’ve also developed competencies for interprofessional education around communications, ethics, team, and team role. The idea is that students can go into the game and team play.” When the team works together—perhaps by all accessing the sanitation section when they go into a patient room—students get positive reinforcement; if they separately bombard patients with repetitive or role-incongruent questions, they don’t.

Content-driven courses

Games may also play a role in content-driven courses, added Larisa Odessky, a fellow and content writer with Professions Quest. “The challenge for us is that guidelines and charts [about drugs and diseases] are very linear,” Odessky said. “Games have to have that replayability, that freedom of movement. It’s more about critical thinking and figuring things out.”

Clinical trials

After suffering a head injury in 2009, McGonigal used her knowledge of gaming to overcome an ensuing depression. “The opposite of play is not work,” McGonigal said. “It’s depression.” First called “Jane, the concussion slayer,” the game has been refocused now as SuperBetter and studied in clinical trials of patients with depression and brain injury. Self-efficacy increases among users and increases their adherence to treatments, McGonigal said.

ReMission is a cancer-fighting game useful for patients, McGonigal said. It has also been shown to provide significant benefits to patients in published clinical trials. McGonigal told Today that she particularly likes ReMission because of its real-world basis. When users miss chemotherapy doses, weapons start misfiring; users learn how quickly missing one or two doses causes your body to lose its cancer-fighting abilities.

Functional MRIs of gamers while they’re playing have shown that blood flow increases to the caudate nucleus, thalamus, and hippocampus—parts of the brain associated with goal orientation, motivation, learning, and changing personal habits. In these studies, the comparison “passive” condition was people watching others play games. “I’m sorry to report,” McGonigal said, “you have to actually play the game to get the benefit.”