Blue Marble Games develop interactive digital-health-games that provide clinicians with analytics to help them assess their patients in real-time. Their games set out to entertain, engage, educate, and challenge physical and cognitive skills across the majority of mobile platforms including Android and iOs.
I caught up with Blue Marble founder and CEO Sheryl Flynn at the Games For Health booth at E3. Sheryl is an advocate of VR and a pioneer in neurogaming. I asked her a few questions about virtual reality, the healing power of video games and the dawn of neurogaming.
What is it about video games that helps people recover from health problems?
I think video games can be used in two ways: Firstly, they’re engaging and motivating, so people will actually play them. But the other thing is we can capture data. In the clinic the way we do things now is we don’t always evaluate patients every single time we see each other, I might evaluate them every 7 days or every 30 days. Now I can get information about every single time they do something and this impacts the way I conduct therapy with them. I can see whether or not my patients have been having trouble with executive function, so if they’re not I won’t focus on that in our session. And I can also give the game to them to take home, which means that they’re not having to spend all of their time in therapy and I can follow them remotely. Rather than having to deal with every single detail of administering the tests – and some of them are very convoluted – one test has 87 different marks you have to give a patient, we’ve simplified it and automated it. This means clinicians can deliver therapy much more efficiently and it also provides them with unprecedented amounts of data – it shows them who’s improving and it also shows what we need to do to help the ones that aren’t.
How does the Oculus rift fit into this?
The line for the rift is long, and I have to be over here now so I can’t check it out right now, but I met Palmer because we both went to ICT. I actually came out to California to specifically to work with Skip Rizzo and then I was there for about a year full time and I just said we’ve got to build these and get these out to the hands of the users. We’ve got to stop being in Academia all of the time. But I’ve actually been approached a few times from people that want to explore games that are designed for vestibular rehabilitation. I was talking with one of the guys that’s approached me a few times and I said ‘have you played the Oculus rift? Check it out because I think this is the hardware that you’ve always been looking for’. All we have to do now is build the games in a therapeutic sense and take advantage of the Oculus from a therapeutic perspective. I definitely see there’s high value potential for using that in the clinic. Nina went and tried it yesterday and she has a very sensitive vestibular system and it made her queezy. But I think what that’s showing us is that there’s clearly a vestibular and visual impact, and so if we know that exists, we can use it therapeutically. I think there’s a huge market for that sort of thing. I imagine this is what Palmer will be talking about at the upcoming Games for Health Conference – the potential health benefits of virtual reality. Beth (Bryant) and I were at the Neurogaming Conference, and I was a speaker on a panel with developers of other cognitive games and Palmer was also on a panel there and it was very interesting to listen to him and his thoughts on the potential use of neurogaming.
How big can neurogaming be?
Well that’s what we do. We’re very excited that its finally coming to the forefront. I mean the fact that we actually had a neurogaming conference was super exciting. I’ve been talking about the potential use for games to rehabilitate the brain and nervous system for 10 years now so its nice to be one of the few companies that actually has products that are ready. It seems that the market’s not ready, but it seems like the technology’s ready and a lot of the people – and in fact this was a common theme coming out of the Neurogaming conference – said that its fine to have all this hardware, but we need content. We’re proud to say that we, at Blue Marble, build content and can everyone out with that. I feel like there’s a perfect storm happening now.
Is VR something that you guys are going to focus on for future projects?
I would love to. We’re funded by the Department of Defense and concussion often results in vestibular problems so its definitely something for us to consider in terms of expanding our reach, but I really see the therapeutic potential so I would love to get my hands on a pair and get our programmers to look at is because we use Unity and I know that’s a popular engine for rift developers right now. Right now, this is what we do in therapy, we hold up a five by seven index card and we have a person look at that and turn their head or turn this and use their eyes, its just an index card. So I think we can do a lot better, we have the technology now, we can take what I call Rehab 2.0, I feel like we can move rehabilitation into this century.
Blue Marble’s latest game Zoezi Park is the translation of an evidence based falls prevention exercise program that has been shown to reduce falls by 35%. Zoezi Park is designed for players over the age of 65 who wish to avoid falling or for those at risk of falling. Straddling rehabilitation and wellness, the application is fun and easy to use, and provides players with increasingly difficult challenges in a supportive and educational park-like setting.
You can visit their pledge page here.
The Games for Health conference is being held in Boston on June 26th until the 28th, and Palmer will be there giving a speech on Healing and Health with Virtual Reality.