So yesterday, after having poked at Pharma Guy’s stance on gamification, I got called out pretty severely by John Mack. Reading between the lines, I feel like he called me out as some sort of gold-digging digital con artist, so that was fun. Maybe it’s a case of, “You’re nobody in this town until Pharmaguy makes fun of you.” Perhaps I should take it all as a weird compliment.
Ignoring the ad hominem attacks, I’d like to dive deeper into Mr. Mack’s argument against the likelihood of the FDA ever approving a game as a proper treatment, the likelihood of a doctor prescribing a game, and the likelihood of an insurer paying for any of it.
The truth is, there is no proven science that games can, in any way, treat a patient’s condition better than a drug. Mr. Mack drills that point home pretty hard, which is fine because it isn’t the point I’m making.
The point I was making is that just because something doesn’t work now, it doesn’t mean that it can’t work in the future. In fact, the entire pharmaceutical industry is predicated on the idea that this particular clump of atoms form an unusual molecule, which when applied to certain people, cause certain outcomes. At one point, penicillin was just mold that grew on bread. It didn’t cure anything until we applied some science to it and learned what it could do.
And, like games, the first time we tried penicillin, it didn’t work. We learned, through trial and error, applied via the scientific method, the best way to use it to stop infections. I wonder if there was a Mr. Mack in 1928, claiming that no one would ever eat the mold off of bread because no one had ever been cured by it before. Or that no one would pay for moldy bread bits.
This all gets even more interesting in light of Mr. Mack’s post today in which he is supportive of the idea that people play games in order to stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. You’ll excuse me for being confused by his position. Regardless of what the FDA will or won’t do tomorrow (as my crystal ball is in the shop), pharma’s reason for being is to discover find whatever solutions to people’s health care issues they can, no matter how unlikely or unusual the source. They were skeptical of tree frog venom, once. Video games seem obvious in comparison.
Frankly, the day pharma can build a game that treats a disease (in a scientifically-provable manner) nearly as well as a brand, is the day pharma finally realizes how much money can be made from this. That’s when pharma takes gamification seriously and issues about the FDA will be figured out.
Also, since games probably won’t have much in the way of side effects, does the FDA really need to be called in to do anything more than verify that the game does what it says it does? Indeed, proving one’s claim hasn’t stopped, say, magnetic jewelry makers and vitamin salespeople from edging in on what should be solely pharma’s domain.
The real issue is that pharma, by playing ostrich, is letting tech get a huge head start. Kodak used to believe that no one would want digital pictures to much the same effect. Acting outside the traditional pharma section puts tech in a position to be a true disruptive agent. Ten years ago, no one thought a guy with a list named Craig would be able to put thousands of journalists out of work. So let’s not assume the protective force-field of the FDA will stop tech companies from trying to do to pharma what Craigslist did to classified ads.
So, in an honest attempt to learn where Mr. Mack stands on the issue of gamification, I will ask that he define his stance free of argumentative distraction like the FDA, insurance providers, and things not necessarily germane to the issue at hand. I think that would be very enlightening.