Do You Remember ‘Theme Hospital’?

How could spending hours sitting in front of your games console be good for you?

Increasingly advancements in technology and pedagogical thinking point to considerable rewards associated with serious games and simulations for developing business skills. But where does this thinking come from? More importantly, does this mean that losing all concept of time in front of your PC or games console can make you a management pro?

If you are anything like me you spent much of your youth immersed in virtual worlds and simulations, playing video games such as Theme Hospital, The Sims, Harvest Moon, Mass Effect, and Fallout. As young people we played these games simply for fun, blissfully unaware of how the game mechanics impacted the reward centers in our brains making all of this so enjoyable.

We were also unaware of the benefits this would lead to in terms of strategic thinking, prioritization skills, and resource management.

For anybody who has not (yet!) played the classic 90’s video game Theme Hospital, the premise is simple: you are a Hospital Administrator tasked with ensuring your hospitals (and patients) survive and thrive through waves of challenges. In practice, the diseases patients present with are comically whacky, such as ‘corrugated ankles’ ‘golf stones; and ‘3rd-degree sideburns’. Yet, for somebody who later spent years in senior management positions in hospitals, many of the management challenges can be eerily realistic.

Click here for a nostalgic hospital visit:

Theme Hospital is a humoristic hospital management simulation game developed by Bullfrog Productions and published by Electronic Arts in 1997.
You start with an empty building and the goal is to design and operate a hospital.

A growing body of research would suggest that simulated activities which are immersive in nature (i.e. a state of Flow is achieved) can be just as good as the real thing in terms of skills development.

Kristina Risley

Simulated environments of course come with the added benefits of replayability and the ability to introduce novel challenges in a safe way – like if your simulated hospital falls victim to an earthquake!

Does that mean I was moulded into an effective HR manager by deciding whether to provide bonuses, pay rises and enhanced training to Theme Hospital doctors to avoid resignations? Absolutely!
Does this mean that playing a surgery simulation makes me qualified to perform open heart surgery? Definitely not, although clinical simulation is an essential part of surgery training.

As the world of business simulations and serious games becomes more accessible for unlocking all of our future potential, May the Flow be with you.

Kristina Risley

Learning and Organisational Development Specialist,
Lecturer in Leadership and Human Resources; Ph.D. Candidate
University of Westminster, London, U.K.