Serious Games for Serious Pharmacy Education


A recent publication in JMIR Education caught my attention that was focused on the use of games in pharmacy education. Titled "Student Preferences on Gaming Aspects for a Serious Game in Pharmacy Practice Education: A Cross-Sectional Study," the study aimed to 'determine the types of gaming aspects that students would like to play in a pharmacy-related serious game.'

For those unfamiliar with concept of 'serious gaming,' it basically entails the idea that games can be used outside the realm of entertainment, but for educational (or other areas of interest) purposes. Gamification has been a concept that has been circulating in many circles, essentially trying to take the addictive nature of some game mechanics (remember FarmVille?) and incorporate it into another purpose. Take for instance health and wellness programs that reward members for their daily activities (such as exercise metrics recorded through a wearable) and then receive awards. Gamification and Serious games really come down to actively engaging users and increasing motivation and enjoyment from activities. In the case of pharmacy (and medical) education, games have been thought to be as a low-risk environmental playing field for students to practice, learn, and simulate techniques.

This study was conducted at the National University of Singapore in their Pharmacy Program. Students across all 4-years of the pharmacy program were given a self-administered survey to assess their preferences for serious games. The questionnaire consisted of 13 questions, including those based upon demographics, games they played, how much they paid for them, and related questions on gaming mechanics and design and overall interest. Lastly, the questionnaire included, interestingly, questions related to possible gaming environments (I particularly like they offered an authentic gaming environment and a post-apocalyptic fantasy environment that has been influenced by TV tropes as of late).

The results are rather interesting, with 72.7% (n=497) students responding. I would recommend reading the article for a deeper analysis, but some takeaway points include:

  • 90.5% of students are interested in serious games for pharmacy education
  • Students would want to be rewarded in game by unlocking new content and gaining experience points
  • Students prefer a fantasy environment and would prefer 3D environments
  • Students want to collaborate and play together

When the analysis was conducted by class year, design aspects changed. These included settings, storyline, and plot devices. This could be due to the age/maturity of students through the curriculum, and probably due also to societal influence.

This study helps paint an idea for the rise of serious games in the education realm of pharmacy, and could be of use for those looking into such developments or inclusion into their curriculum. However, most likely as most readers have quickly realized, is that the type or implementation of a game design would benefit from a survey of students in the US, compared to Singapore, in order to assess what gaming concepts are preferable.

Citation: Chang HY, Poh DYH, Wong LL, Yap JYG, Yap KYL. Student Preferences on Gaming Aspects for a Serious Game in Pharmacy Practice Education: A Cross-Sectional Study. JMIR Medical Education 2015;1(1):e2