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Gamasutra is in attendance at this year's Games For Health conference in Baltimore, and in the opening session, show co-director Ben Sawyer highlighted greater turnout, more grant money for health-related gaming - and Benjamin Heckendorn's new one-handed

May 8, 2008

2 Min Read

Author: by Kyle Orland, Chris Remo

Gamasutra is attending the fourth annual Games For Health conference, which kicks off in Baltimore today for two days of sessions covering games being developed to serve health care efforts. Conference co-director Ben Sawyer of project development firm Digital Mill delivered today's opening remarks, giving on overview of where the conference has come over the last four years. The number of sessions more than doubled from the last conference's 25 to over 50 this year, while attendance was up by more than a third from 220 to over 300. Impressively, Sawyer pointed out that while two years ago the health care-oriented Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded a $250,000 grant in the area of health games, it is now providing a considerably larger $1 million four-year grant as well as $7 million research grants to support the research and development of such games. Said Sawyer of the movement's overall goals in using games to effect positive change in health care, "We want to do this stuff because we're solving a problem better than it was or wasn't being solved before." Organizations such as the International Game Developers Association, casual game developer PopCap, and Penny Arcade-run children's charity Childs Play are all involved in various ways with the conference's efforts, such as yesterday's Game Accessibility Day. That event showcased titles intended to be "playable by everybody" - highlighting accessibility issues in games for those with physical barrier to play. These include a one-handed version of Guitar Hero created by hardware hacker extraordinaire Benjamin Heckendorn, and making extensive use of a foot pedal built with the support of publisher RedOctane. Heckendorn has posted a detailed explanation of the hardware hack (alongside lots of pictures) on his own site, explaining: "What you do is use your foot and click your toes up or down to strum or navigate menus. To perform a whammy you lift up your heel." The conference's "exergaming" room shows off consumer-targeted but fitness-slanted products such as EyeToy, Wii Fit, Dance Dance Revolution, and My Weight Loss Coach, which ships with a DS pedometer peripheral. Sawyer also announced that Games For Health would be expanding its geographical reach, hosting local summits and becoming involved with this year's E3 Expo. It will also hold a "Games For Health Jam" later this year, challenging participants to develop health care-oriented experimental games in under 48 hours. The Games For Health conference runs through tomorrow afternoon, and Gamasutra will have session write-ups appearing regularly throughout the next few days.

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