Hello again, historio-medico aficionados. As always, this is Kevin, and I’m here with another installment of CEPI Curiosities.
For all you wonderful people who regularly follow our blogological exploits, you’ll notice we have a heavy focus on game-based learning in our Karabots Junior Fellows program. We strongly believe in the power of games and interactive learning to create exciting and engaging classroom experiences. With the popularity of games in modern culture, it should come as no surprise that we’re not the only ones out there trying to use games to teach about health and medicine.
But, I hear you ask, dear reader, “So, what? This is CEPI Curiosities; what’s so curious about health games?” Well I’m here to tell you about one of the earliest, and in some ways the most unusual, health-themed games I have ever encountered. I’m here to introduce you to Captain Novolin, a game designed to teach children about diabetes.
Released in 1992 for the Super Nintendo, Captain Novolin was developed by Sculptured Software and produced by Raya Systems. Sculptured Software was an active player in the American games industry, mostly involved in developing home adaptations of arcade games, notably the Mortal Kombat series, as well as licensed games for recognizable brands such as The Simpsons, Star Wars, popular board games, and World Wrestling Entertainment. Publisher Raya, meanwhile, carved a small niche in the medical infogame market at the time with titles addressing cigarette smoking (Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon), asthma (Bronkie the Bronkiosaurus), and AIDS (the unreleased AIDS Avenger).
Captain Novalin’s story goes like this: Aliens led by the nefarious Blubberman have invaded Earth disguised as giant walking snacks and have kidnapped the mayor of Pineville. The unfortunate mayor suffers from Type 1 diabetes and only has a limited amount of medication. It is up to Captain Novolin to rescue the mayor and bring him his insulin before it’s too late! The adventure hits Captain Novolin on a personal level because as it so happens the good captain also has diabetes (the name Novolin comes from a brand of insulin). As a result, it is the player’s job to maintain the blue-clad crusader’s blood sugar levels, collecting healthy foods and avoiding sweets on his quest to rescue the pilfered politician.
The game takes a literal-minded approach to the subject matter: Captain Novolin has to literally avoid unhealthy foods by jumping over or walking past the gaggle of gargantuan, ice cream cones, donuts, soda bottles and the like. If he comes in contact with one of the sentient sugary snacks [I promise that’s the last alliterative line in this article], he becomes dizzy; too much contact and he passes out, forcing the player to try again. Interspersed between the gameplay sections are tips on proper insulin usage and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. The game also periodically quizzes the player on information related to diabetes.
Captain Novolin is praiseworthy for staying on message, something that cannot necessarily be said for some of Raya’s other health games. For example, Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon, another Sculptured Software creation, has the player manage smoking by shrinking down and entering the body (a la Fantastic Voyage) to clear out tar with a laser. That being said, most video game enthusiasts have a low opinion of the Captain Novolin for its poor controls and unconventional premise.
If you are interested in some more contemporary examples, of health-themed games you yourself can play without tracking down a Super Nintendo and a copy of Captain Novolin (a game that runs roughly $30-200 on eBay), there are some impressive games that spread awareness about important subjects, including depression (Depression Quest), cancer (Cancer Game; That Dragon, Cancer), hormone replacement therapy (Dys4ia), and vaccination (Illsville: Fight the Disease, hosted by our own History of Vaccines).
Until next time, catch you on the strange side!