Yale launches new Center for Health & Learning Games

Games have proven to be powerful tools to teach positive health and learning behaviors to youth. Since 2009, Yale School of Medicine (YSM) investigators have been researching and developing games that are designed to help prevent harms such as risky sexual behavior, substance abuse, and HIV transmission, as well as to promote healthy behaviors and educational skills. To expand the scope and reach of this innovative approach, YSM announced the launch of the Yale Center for Health & Learning Games.

“The goal is to continue with a focus on research and development and evaluation of evidence-based game and videogame interventions, but also expand in terms of university- and community-wide collaborations, as well as national and international partnerships,” said Dr. Lynn Fiellin, associate professor of medicine and the Yale Child Study Center, and founder of the new center.

The Yale Center for Health & Learning Games will build on partnerships with researchers in the departments of internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, as well as with organizations such as Women’s Health Research at Yale, the Yale Child Study Center, the Center for Emotional Intelligence, the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.

The new center will incorporate the current Yale play2PREVENT Lab, which is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with Fiellin as director and Dr. Kimberly Hieftje, an associate research scientist, as deputy director. They will also increase their educational/training offerings. Their team of investigators has already trained over 25 high school students, Yale College and professional students, college students from other institutions, and faculty on how to apply “serious” game interventions to behavioral health and educational skills. In addition, the new center will create a course and other training opportunities at Yale on the use of videogame interventions and their impact on behavioral health, Fiellin said.

“Serious games research is an emerging field with great attention from academia, government, non-profit, and the private sector,” said Fiellin.  “We want to make sure that Yale is at the forefront of determining what does and does not work in the production of evidence-based rigorously tested games.” Fiellin and her colleagues have worked with a number of commercial and serious games (games developed for purposes other than just entertainment) developers, and they are actively finalizing collaborations with a number of national and international partners.

“When stakeholders hear about this work, they think it is a novel strategy to apply to a field that they are already engaged in — not in a conventional way, but in a way that has the potential to connect with their constituents and have a unique and lasting impact,” noted Fiellin. “It is using game play and technology and applying it to health and behavioral science. From the standpoint of key stakeholders, including academic and game development groups, we have established a solid reputation in terms of rigorous serious game development and evaluation.”

Following are examples of the team’s videogame intervention work:

Yale’s play2PREVENT lab partners with educational game developer

Helping adolescents understand the consequences of risky sexual behavior

Yale’s play2PREVENT Lab acquires Tunnel Tail to prevent teen substance abuse

Yale-created video game aims to teach youths about HIV risks