By Saphia Suarez
Last Saturday, Lynn E. Fiellin, MD, professor of medicine (general internal medicine) and the Child Study Center; and founder/director, play2PREVENT Lab at Yale and the Yale Center for Health & Learning Games, was recognized as a Falling Walls Science Breakthroughs of the Year winner.
The Falling Walls World Science Summit, named after the peaceful falling of the Berlin Wall, asks the question: Which are the next walls to fall in science and society?
For Fiellin, that next wall is that between video games and health. Fiellin was recognized in the Digital Education category for her work in her play2PREVENT lab. Out of over 1,000 submissions, Fiellin and her lab were one of 10 winners.
“They asked us, ‘What is your scientific breakthrough?,’” says Fiellin. “And so what I presented was, ‘My scientific breakthrough is the work that my lab does, this notion of using video games to really enhance the health and well-being of adolescents.’”
Fiellin emphasizes that she herself is not a gamer. But having raised adolescents, she knows firsthand how captivating video games can be for teens.
“When I first started this work, my kids were between the ages of nine and 19, and everybody was playing video games,” says Fiellin. “And it was so clear to me that if I wanted to impact teenagers, I should find them in the space where they really want to be.”
Fiellin founded the lab 11 years ago with a large National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant, and has served as its director ever since. Fiellin was subsequently granted a center, the Yale Center for Health & Learning Games, of which the play2PREVENT lab is a part. The lab has completed and evaluated four games and is developing a fifth.
“Each of them target a specific health outcome using constructs such as social and emotional learning, and character development,” says Fiellin. “With the goal of helping teens learn information and skills so that they can make better decisions and be happier and healthier.”
The games are graphic novel-style, story-based, and character driven. They target a variety of health issues, such as HIV prevention and risk reduction, smoking and vaping prevention, and opioid misuse.
In order to ensure the games are captivating to teens, play2PREVENT works with commercial game developers. “They know how to create games that are fun and engaging, and that's key,” says Fiellin.
Fiellin also works with teens when developing the games. “They help in every step of the development to make sure that what we're creating is really authentic to them and relevant to them,” says Fiellin.
“And then when we evaluate, we typically use rigorous scientific methods like randomized control trials to evaluate the impact of our game compared to a control condition. In some cases, we follow kids for up to two years to be able to document what the impact of our game is. So they're fully involved with the development and the evaluation of each of our games.”
The Section of General Internal Medicine is committed to the core missions of patient care, research, education, and community health from the “generalist” perspective and is one of the 11 sections with the Department of Internal Medicine. To learn more about their mission and work, visit .