Algoma partners with Toronto Rehab to design therapeutic games
SAULT STE. MARIE - Sault Ste. Marie's Algoma University is carving out a niche for its computer gaming technology students and faculty in the subfield of what is known as "serious" games, i.e. games for non-recreational purposes.
Now, in a significant partnership with Toronto Rehabilitation, Algoma gaming students and faculty are designing games for therapeutic benefit.
Building on the success of its computer gaming degree programs, the University recently established Algoma Games for Health, a video game development studio with a focus on research and development of game technology for health care applications, particularly for rehabilitation therapy.
Over the last year, Algoma Games for Health has been working with Toronto Rehabilitation on a prototype for recovering language skills after a stroke. The concept is to develop a game that can be used remotely by patients and therapists.
The partnership between Algoma Games for Health and Toronto Rehab is an ideal one: the latter provides the medical and therapeutic expertise, and Algoma Games for Health devises new ways of collecting data with games.
"Games can bring value to so many different areas," says Dwayne Hammond, director of Algoma Games for Health. "In health care, there is enormous potential for games to be employed therapeutically. Traditional rehabilitation techniques can be tedious for the patient, but by adding interactive gaming style content, patients are often more motivated to stick with their therapy."
Games can also automatically collect valuable research data and monitor patient progress, and they can be delivered to those in need in a cost effective manner that is not restricted by geographical concerns or proximity to therapists.
Furthermore, Algoma Games for Health presents an excellent opportunity for its bachelor's and master's students to work in a professional studio on real-life projects. Last year, two students worked on the prototype of the language skills recovery game.
Algoma's innovative MSc program in gaming (linked by videoconference over advanced networks such as ORION and CANARIE to the University of Abertay Dundee in Scotland) has graduated its first crop of graduates - some of whom have found employment in the field in the Sault Ste. Marie region. In addition, the Algoma Games for Health initiative is not only an ideal learning ground for students in real-world gaming applications, it may also become an incubator for program graduates to work on specific projects.
With funding from the municipal, provincial and federal governments and now with a full-time staff of four developers, Algoma Games for Health is also exploring the potential of videoconferencing technology to connect therapists to patients in their homes.
A relatively new player in the gaming industry, the Sault Ste. Marie region could become a world leader in the emerging subfield of serious games developed for health care. Algoma University is being aggressive in carving out this niche.