Background: Games are a viable method of health communication and education. According to the Entertainment Software Association, games are played by 58% of Americans—by both genders and by a wide age range. Health education games have been shown to increase knowledge, change behavioral intent, and improve adherence to medical treatment (healthgamesresearch.org). Game development challenge events known as “Game Jams” are a proven way to bring game developers together to address a specific theme in a competitive, collaborative atmosphere, constrained by location and time frame (i.e., single venue and 48-hour duration) to produce prototype games. Interactive health education tools such as health education games and motion comics have demonstrated the ability to induce statistically significant changes in knowledge, attitudes and behavioral intentions and behaviors consistent with HIV prevention. In an effort to create HIV-focused game prototypes in a way that is relatively fast and low-cost, we decided to produce an HIV focused Game Jam with support from the HHS Ventures fund.
Evaluation Methods and Results: The 2014 HHS Health Game Jam was held from September 26th-28th, 2014. We partnered with several different organizations to produce the event, including Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) and the Georgia Game Developers Association who hosted the event. We solicited our colleagues at CDC and our sister HHS agencies HRSA and NIH to be subject matter experts. The event began at 6pm on the Friday the 26th and concluded at 5pm on Sunday the 28th. The goal of the event was to have designers create games which focused the primary and secondary prevention of HIV. We provided educational sessions about topics in secondary and primary prevention of HIV prior to the start of the jam and arranged for HIV subject matter experts from CDC, HRSA and NIH to guide the game jam teams in the development of their games. Our results are encouraging. 41 games were produced in the 48 hour period. 291 people and 25 Subject matter experts participated in the event. Our event attracted many first time participants (56.6%) with most being enrolled at a university (79.4%) and most being under the age of 25 (73.7%). More importantly only 16.6% had considered a career in public health prior to the event rising to 65% after the event. Similarly, of the 43.4% who had ever participated in a game jam before only 23.4% had ever created a health related game.
Conclusions: Results of this event were encouraging: Event attendance and number of games produced exceeded expectations, accompanied by robust growth in interest in public health among participants.
Implications for research and/or practice: The event demonstrated that game jams can effectively and efficiently be used to build inexpensive demos of HIV-related games and to improve awareness of and interest in public health careers. We plan to build on our success hosting a similar event in 2015 building on the lessons learned during the 2014 event.