The Game of Health

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What is the Game of Health?

The game of health connects money to health. Not always in a good way. We all want both, money and health, but – like most things in life – there are trade-offs. It matters what you are dealt at the start of the game. And it is partially a game of luck. You don’t get to choose your parents, your genes, your environment, and your station in life when you are born. Some of these things you can change as you grow up, but not all. We are talking, of course, about the “Game of Life” we developed at the Design Institute for Health.

“You don’t get to choose your parents, your genes, your environment, and your station in life when you are born.”

Developed by a core team that included designers Ajinkya Barve, Bhargavi Jogleklar in addition to the Design Institute staff, the Game of Health tries to convey in a humorous way the interplay of money and health as you go through your journey in life. Empathy plays a vital role in design. By playing the game and dealing with situations we borrowed from real life, we hope that you will empathize with those patients whose stories inspired us. Participants at both the Design Institute Open House at SXSW 2018 and at the What’s the Fix conference 2018 had the chance to play this board game. We consider it a work in progress.

How The Game of Health Works

Depending on your luck, you are either insured or uninsured. Insured people pay a fee to spin the wheel (the premium), uninsured people don’t. On the other hand, uninsured people pay more for everything.


Depending on your luck, things can happen to you­ – good and bad – at each stage of life. For example:

  • Age 0-5: You developed stomach flu. It must be the water you drank from Fido’s bowl. He is adorable, but next time don’t share your water with dogs. 

  • Age 0-5: Your parents are anti-vaxxers. Since you were not properly vaccinated, you got whooping cough.

  • Age 6-17: Your school gets rid of soda machines. Your parents should thank them.

  • Age 18-28: You received an HPV vaccine. Good Job! Now you are protecting yourself and your partner.

  • Age 29-30: You went for a jog and got mugged. You may still have had some physical benefits from it. The psychological benefits are now questionable.

  • Age 29-30: You tell the medical assistant that you take metformin for your diabetes. She puts in your records that you are a meth user. You only discover that later. You appeal but are unable to correct your own medical records. (real story)

  • Age 40-52: You’ve won the lottery. Your financial problems are over, although your health problems remain.

  • Age 53-64: Insurance doesn’t cover intensive rehab. Because of that, your doctor protects you by not discharging you from the ICU.

  • Age 53-64: Like many boomers, you’ve acquired an STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease). Yes, we know your generation invented Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll. Yes, we know you are past your reproductive years. But you or your partner still have to wear condoms.


What does it mean?

You receive fake money to pay for healthcare bills and health points, represented by little red plastic hearts. Depending on your luck on the game, you lose or gain money and health.

Your objective is to retire with the most health and money, with a caveat. If you run out of money, there are things you can do to get more, such as selling a kidney or volunteering as a paid research subject. If you run out of health, the cemetery is your only exit.

Our idea was not to create a realistic simulation of the US healthcare system. That would not be fun. We wanted to invite people to play a fun game that makes them think about how our healthcare system affects lives, and how we can make it better.

Jose Colucci, MS, PhD