Learning from video games

Video games are more than just forms of entertainment these days. It’s been suggested that games could be used by astronauts to combat isolation, and they’re now used to for teaching purposes as well. Take Night Shift: a medical video game for iOS made to improve physicians’ ability to accurately recognize trauma in patients, in order to provide them with the necessary level of treatment.

Designed by Deepika Mohan, a medical doctor and associate professor of Critical Care Medicine and Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh-based development company Schell Games, Night Shift puts players in the role of a young emergency physician tasked with treating severe trauma patients. The game is designed to “tap into the part of the brain that uses pattern recognition and previous experience to make snap decisions using subconscious mental shortcuts.”

Image: Schell Games

As Mohan explains, physicians often need to make decisions quickly, regardless of the amount of information available to them. Yet most physicians at non-trauma centers rarely encounter patients suffering from severe trauma, and may mistakenly prioritize relatively lesser injuries — for example, noticing non-fatal gunshot wounds, while failing to perceive internal bleeding caused from falling.

Immediate results, lasting effects

To test the medical video game’s efficacy, 368 emergency medicine physicians from across the United States were picked to participate in Mohan’s study. None of the participants worked at hospitals specializing in trauma. Half were given the game to play, while the other half had to spend at least an hour reading educational material. In the end, those who played the game performed better than those with reading materials, as confirmed by subsequent questionnaires and simulation test.

The Night Shift group failed to send severe trauma patients to hospitals equipped to treat them 53 percent of the time, compared to the 64 percent tasked with reading educational texts. The effects of the game seemingly stuck with those physicians as well: 6 months later, they failed 57 percent of the time, compared to the latter group’s 74 percent.

When asked what could have been the reason behind the game’s higher success rate, Mohan told Futurism she believes it was due to the game’s ability to better communicate the consequences of the physician’s actions and mistakes.

“Specifically, I think that stories are memorable. And in this instance, what we did was to use stories to allow physicians to understand the consequences of errors in judgment,” Mohan explained to Futurism by email. “For example, instead of telling physicians to transfer patients with rib fractures (as the text-based education does), we immersed physicians in a story about a patient with rib fractures who died when she didn’t receive the appropriate treatment.”

Mohan elaborated, adding, “Players not only saw the consequences of their decision making, they also had to encounter in-game characters who provided feedback about their actions. I think physicians remembered those stories when completing the virtual simulation, and consciously or not continued to remember them six months later.”

Interestingly, those that played the game are said to have enjoyed it much less than those with reading materials. However, there’s hope that if the game can be improved, the effects can be increased as well.

There’s no telling when we’ll see the results of that improved game (or a sequel), but if it really does lead to additional benefits, we could see games like Night Shift used more and more in the medical field, as well as other areas like architecture or law. There’s no reason people can’t play a game made for learning, while simultaneously having fun with it.