Chapter Six: A Short History, to Remind Us Whence We Came, and Where We Currently Stand
The National Center for Collaboration in Medical Modeling and Simulation, based in the Old Dominion University Campus, Norfolk, Virginia, is as unassuming a place with as complex a name as could be. I can, in fact, remember very little about its layout or the look of the building or anything. What I do remember is thinking to myself that unlike the cutting edge of driving simulation or the cutting edge of military simulation -- both either boring, backward, or uninteresting in comparison to videogamingís take -- I had no idea if medical modeling simulations were comparable to the cutting edge of medically-themed games. So, I decided, if I were ever to write an article on this godforsaken, misbegotten trip, this would have to be the focus.
So. Let us set the scene, with a short history of medically-themed games.
The games set in the medical world that are most likely to stick out in peopleís minds are the titles that Software Toolworks produced. Life and Death, the 1988 DOS title that came with an eye meltingly horrific CGA palette (but was later reproduced on the Amiga in 16 colors by Mindscape in 1991), and Life and Death 2: The Brain, dealing, indeed, entirely with the brain, and enclosed in a box with a hilarious cover that made it look like your job as a brain surgeon is to rip them out.
Life and Death 1 and 2, respectively.
These are quite full, if macabre, simulations of a doctorís experience, including staff selection, patient diagnosis, and an absurdly complicated, if completely realistic, surgery section. If you have completed the original game, you could expect that you might be capable of performing an appendectomy and an aortic grafting (trusting that your patientís insides were an ugly mess of 4 colors, mostly cyan), though, to be brutally honest, thatís wildly unlikely. Despite being designed by a real doctor (Dr. Myo Thant) at a time when medical training was solely from books (with the odd dash of actors as patients, or corpses) the Life and Death games are particularly poor as titles to be used to gain an understanding of medical procedures Ė the interface is unwieldy to say the least, and the a complete lack of a helping hand through the surgery, other than the manual, makes a trip anywhere other than the morgue unlikely for your patients.
While itís possible that these titles inspired some youngsters to take up a career in medicine, Iíd rather they werenít my doctor, as being poked in the eye and then having my doctorís initials carved in me without anesthetic, things entirely possible in the game, arenít at the top of my list of things to have happen.
Dr. Myo Thant went on to produce Virtual Surgeon: Open Heart with his own company, ISM Interactive, but consisting mostly of live action scenes, and with surgery scenes not particularly interactive, it was little more than a glorified training video.
Since then, getting your hands dirty as a doctor or surgeon in gaming somewhat fell out of fashion. Titles such as SimHealth, Theme Hospital, mainly concern themselves with management, and are about as useful and inspiring to those interested in joining the medical profession as Sim City is to architects. Since even then (Theme Hospital was released in 1997) the majority (the only?) medical games have come from Legacy Interactive (now called Legacy Games, apparently), including titles such as ER: The Game, an unrealistic tie in to the show (most notable for a gleefully silly webgame) and a variety of titles that for the majority use full motion video with gameplay elements, such as Emergency Room: Life or Death (I see what they did there) and Code Blue. Though they do offer accurate simulations of procedure, they donít offer the level of training of technique offered by the Life or Death series, and again stuffer from being an infuriating test of trial and error (or repeatedly checking your in-game PDA). You can play what is essentially a fully featured version of their Emergency Room games online in shockwave at ERSim, so you donít have to just take my word on how deeply uninteresting these games are.
[Next: Chapter Seven]