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The Health Game

Esther Bodil Huyer

 The next generation of Sims

Perhaps due to increasing life complexity and disconnect to nature or simply due to our intrinsic analytical interest, we are keen to learn more about ourselves, our behaviour and our health. We use data analytics to find those answers, many of us willingly sharing our personal data. Individual health is in demand and we are just entering a world of personalised digital health services, diagnostics, and treatment.
In the computer game Sims, users can build houses and manage people (the “Sims”) that then move in to live in these houses. To make informed decisions about how to manage them and care for their health and well-being, there is a dashboard in the game that informs users about the status of the Sim’s basic needs, like tiredness, hunger, health, etc. Based on this information, users can tell the Sim to eat, go to the restroom, sleep or make social contact. These actions then increase the Sim’s happiness and health level.

 r/gaming - I find the energy/fun bar etc used on The Sims to be a useful way of visualising my own levels IRL.

© 2018, u/WordsFan available at:

Dashboards in the form of applications like Samsung health also provide the user with data on the status of their basic needs. Data about sleep, steps, heartbeat, calorie consumption, oxygen saturation, hydration, workouts, and stress level, for example, are available. Sensors in our phones, smart wristbands and smart wake up lights monitor our behaviour, analyse the information, and inform us when to wake up, when to drink water, get active, breathe to relax, work out, and go to bed. With this information from our personal dashboards, we can increase our own happiness and health level – how convenient.

Track, Manage, Improve: Better Health with S Health App

Track , manage approve: Better Health with S Health App”

© 2010-2020 SAMSUNG available at: 

Gamification of health

In addition to monitoring our health data and act accordingly, we can even compare our weekly scores to others'. Is your average sleep above others? Are your total steps above what others walked? Is your smart scale telling your physical age and does your watch tell you to move more to keep up your game? New service providers like 360 of me analyse personal data, compares them with their database and flag risks, or formulates tailored recommended next steps to users.
This brings up the question: are we the next generation of Sim, intelligently played to be happy and healthy based on the information in our personal dashboard? Our own game toward a healthier life is just a small part of the story. The actual driving force of course is gathering and learning from large amounts of health data in an aggregated way and derive insights from that data.


Strong demand for personal health data

On average, we are getting healthier and we are more and more interested in how to keep and increase our physical and mental wellbeing. The interest, and thus the market, for research about how to live healthier, is growing. Here, collected individual health data is integral. For example, Eurostat is introducing new ways of generating and analysing statistical data that includes wearable sensors to make statements about moving patterns, general health, and behaviour. Currently, more than 50% of smartphone users collect health data on their phones.1 Health and wellness applications are flooding the app stores and also practitioners using apps and cloud services to monitor, analyse, and share patients'  health data. Insights from this data can greatly support scientific research and inform policymaking and public health strategies. However, sharing personal health data is complex.


Sharing my health data

How can our health data support research? (Reminder: this is personal data and everyone who has heard about GDPR in the news knows that the devil herself comes to punish everyone who even thinks about sharing personal data.) Well, everyone who took the effort to try to understand GDPR knows that we have solid and legally compliant ways to share our personal data, for example for research purposes. Countries like Australia, the UK or the Netherlands have national initiatives and systems to manage safe and ethical sharing of personal health data. One example is Citizen, a global provider offering save ways to share our health record with practitioners, family or research. Those services, however, focus on data that is collected by practitioners.

Apps that collect our health data are often less clear about why, who, how long, where and in which way data is used if we agree to share it. This does not built trust and often, maybe righteously, we opt out of sharing our data. This can also be a missed opportunity.

"From my perspective as a researcher, partnering with Apple does absolutely give us unprecedented access to lots of potential participants, many more than we would typically have" Richard Neitzel, University of Michigan's School of Public Health.2

 When we want to share our data, we need to be able to understand the answers to the following questions:3

  • What is the data controller’s identity?
  • What kind of data will be processed?
  • How will it be used?
  • What is the purpose of the processing operations?
  • How can I withdraw?

If we understand the answers to the questions above and give consent, sharing our personal data is compliant. Although GDPR is a reliable legal basis, it also empowers and requires us to make our own decisions when and with whom to share our personal data and for which benefits in return. In a compliant and ethical way, ideally we can play our own personal Sims better informed, make our lives happier and healthier, and save public health spending. In that way we might all win the health game. What is your view? Comment on this opinion piece to discuss the topic further.

Dashboard for a Sim's status on her personal basic needs
Image credit:
© 2018, u/WordsFan