When we think of games, ‘health’ isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind, and ‘fun’ isn’t exactly how we would describe medical appointments and therapy sessions. With the help of real-time gaming, however, the narrative is changing.
On World Health Day 2022, we’re celebrating two creators who are infusing fun into the healthcare space and creating positive impacts for thousands of children across the globe.
Flourish. That’s the word that crossed Vijay Ravindran’s mind when he saw his son interacting with a virtual reality (VR) headset for the first time.
For Vijay’s son and hundreds of thousands of other neurodiverse children worldwide, learning and playing look a little different than they do for their neurotypical peers. 2D games and apps can be challenging for neurodiverse children, who often have trouble focusing on the elements being shown on screen or get distracted by what’s happening around them.
That’s why Vijay founded Floreo (“flourish” in Latin), a VR-based education platform that gives children with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, anxiety, and other neurodiverse conditions the opportunity to play, learn, and thrive.
Floreo aims to create a world that’s open and accessible for every neurodiverse person.
“The metaverse shows incredible potential to create safe virtual spaces for the neurodiverse. It enables them to interact with their environment in new ways, providing them with rewarding experiences and enabling them to build up skills they can use in the real world.” – Vijay Ravindran, CEO of Floreo
As the first behavioral therapy metaverse, Floreo uses a clinician-curated and ever-growing collection of lessons to teach neurodiverse children life skills that would be difficult to impart in the classroom.
These lessons cover a wide variety of early childhood development topics, social and safety skills, independent living guidance, and emotional regulation exercises. A few examples include practicing eye contact, learning to cross the street, and exploring the grocery store.
By stepping into a VR world, children can better focus on their learning, have an easier time visualizing abstract topics, and apply their knowledge in real-time.
In addition to making learning fun for children, Floreo has another impactful benefit: providing clinicians with tools to better understand and communicate with each patient.
In particular, as the past few years made telehealth a priority, clinicians have found it more difficult to engage with their patients. Floreo allows clinicians to view user data and see how children interact in the metaverse, helping them discern how their patients are grasping new information and adjust lesson plans as needed.
Even as in-person meetings resume, telehealth options still provide flexibility for busy parents and those living in more remote areas.
Vijay sees this as a new opportunity for improving interaction with patients. “We believe one of our most powerful uses is extending Floreo to a telehealth therapy system. By entering the metaverse with their patients, clinicians can keep their patients much more focused than through a Zoom screen.”
Thinking back on his evolution from Amazon employee to impact-oriented entrepreneur, Vijay reminisces about the moment he decided to build Floreo. “It was so powerful seeing my son engage with VR technology, and I saw so much opportunity in where VR could be in the next 5–10 years.”
That was five years ago, and in 2021, Floreo delivered over 17,000 therapy lessons. Today, Vijay is as motivated as ever, and excited to see what comes next.
He’s now working on obtaining regulatory approval for Floreo to be classed as a medical device, which would make the lessons available to thousands of additional patients and allow them to be covered under various insurance policies.
It's been a rewarding journey for Vijay and Floreo, and he has some advice for others looking to get into the digital health and wellbeing space.
“Our success is a direct result of the strong relationships we’ve built with both families and therapist communities. By listening attentively to the experts, you can pinpoint exactly where you can add value and build great experiences.” – Vijay Ravindran, CEO of Floreo
To learn more about Floreo, check out their website.
For Jamie Bankhead, a career in social impact seemed like the obvious career path. After completing a speech therapy game for his honors project at university, he was hooked, and founded Konglomerate Games.
With his gaming-for-good approach, Jamie and the team at Konglomerate use their technical skills and niche expertise to bring health experts’ projects to life.
“Healthcare professionals, especially those working with children, encounter complicated problems on a daily basis but often don’t have the time or expertise to find a solution. That’s where we come in, building engaging, fun games that improve healthcare outcomes.” – Jamie Bankhead, CEO of Konglomerate Games
To manage their condition, patients with cystic fibrosis must perform a daily series of breathing exercises. Most children find this routine tedious, so Project Fizzyo partnered with Konglomerate to gamify physical therapy for children with chronic respiratory diseases.
Adherence to and proper performance of these activities can significantly increase the quality and length of patients’ lives.
So, while Project Fizzyo partners got to work on their physical device prototype, Jamie and Konglomerate built an interactive game to help keep children engaged and motivated during their exercises.
With help from their prototype device, children use their breath as real-time input to play a series of minigames that are similar to many non-medical games on the market. What makes Project Fizzyo’s game design particularly remarkable is its responsiveness to each player’s individual needs.
“The main goal is to make sure children are motivated to play,” Jamie says. “That’s why we incorporated features like daily breath calibration to make sure the high-score is always within reach, even when a child is having a particularly difficult day.”
Project Fizzyo is still analyzing data collected during clinical trials, but feedback from children and parents alike has been phenomenal. Physical therapy time is now fun, with some kids even requesting to play the game in its trial phase.
Check out a mini-documentary about how Project Fizzyo was put in motion.
Patients with cystic fibrosis and other medical conditions are often prescribed at-home physical therapy, which makes monitoring progress challenging. Without any concrete feedback, parents of children with CF have a hard time knowing what effort is being exerted and, therefore, how effective the exercises are.
Interactive games provide both doctors and parents with much-needed data to see how children are progressing – and in some cases, regressing.
Medical games can create a significant feedback loop. When input data powers gameplay, it can be rerouted to doctors, who can keep an eye on trends to better understand how their patients are performing.
This is one of the many features Konglomerate has in mind for future endeavors. With four projects currently in development and a new colleague about to join them, the future seems bright for Jamie and his team of innovators.
“The general public is slowly becoming more aware of serious games, and while we’re excited to be part of the early narrative, we’re committed to continuing to amplify this message until people easily associate games with good.” – Jamie Bankhead, CEO of Konglomerate Games
For more on Konglomerate Games, visit their website.