Video games, also referred to as “gamification,” are increasingly being used to educate and help solve scientific and societal problems.

Dr. Olajide Williams, Chief of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center, better known as “Hip Hop Doc,” is the founder of Hip Hop Public Health, a public health organization based in New York that works with rap stars like Doug E. Fresh, to promote healthy living through music, videos, and games.

Dr. Williams, who generally requests children turn off electronic devices, urges them to play the game, Stroke Hero. “While I recognize the hazards of video games, and the need to limit screen time, what better way to enable children to save lives than by having them play a video game?”

Williams and rapper, Artie Green, designed Stroke Hero, a 15-minute video game, as an experiment with 210 low-income fourth graders, in an under-resourced neighborhood, where up to 20% of the kids are cared for by grandparents - who are at high risk for stroke.

During the video game, players navigate a spaceship through an artery, and shoot down blood clots - which block the flow of blood from the heart to the brain - with clot-dissolving drugs as ammunition, while avoiding plaques that line the artery walls, and block the way forward.

Recognizing the symptoms

The game stresses the importance of speed in recognizing stroke symptoms, and immediately calling for help. After the clot-busting drugs run out, players need to answer stroke awareness related questions, before they can refuel (refill their syringes). If they answer incorrectly, they are given the right answers. Throughout the game, Green raps about the signs of a brain attack.

“Stroke, it’ll cause weakness in both sides...stroke, you’ll lose vision in both eyes. Makes your speech slur when you talk. Never hesitate—call for help! Stroke doesn’t care if you’re black or white. Knowing all the symptoms will save a life.”

After playing the video game, children given a hypothetical scenario were more likely to recognize imbalance and other problems as symptoms of stroke - than children who played only once - and were then able to call an ambulance. The participants had retained their knowledge when they were tested seven weeks later.

About 90% of the participants reported enjoying the game, while 67% said they planned to play Stroke Hero at home.

“Supplementing the content of video games with stroke education may represent a powerful way to improve stroke knowledge. Improving practical stroke knowledge by a bystander, which in some cases is a child, may improve response time to an acute stroke event. Empowering every potential witness with the knowledge and skills required to make that life-saving decision if they witness a stroke is critical,” reiterates Dr. Williams.