BY KIM BELLARD
Here’s a question: what medical schools are incorporating Roblox into their curriculum?
Interested readers can get back to me, but in the meantime I’m guessing none. At best, very few. And instead of “medical schools” feel free to insert kind of “healthcare institutions/organization” that is interested in educating or training – which is to say, all of them. By way of contrast, I was intrigued by the collaboration between Roblox and The Parsons School of Design.
Perhaps you don’t know about Roblox, a creator platform whose vision is “to reimagine the way people come together to create, play, explore, learn, and connect with one another.” As their website says: “We don’t make Roblox. You do.” It claims to have almost 10 million developers using its platform, hosting some 50 million “experiences.”
I first wrote about it in 2021, astonished that over half of American children used it, with some 37 million unique daily users. Today it has over 66 million unique daily users — some 214 million monthly active users. The vast majority of the users – as much as 80% — are under 16, a fact Roblox is acutely aware of and is seeking to change.
Parson and Roblox announced the collaboration last November. “Partnering with Roblox offers Parsons students working in creative technologies an exciting opportunity to engage the complex intersection of visual culture and social structure, and to play with how we make meaning when we dress ourselves – in digital and physical worlds,” said Shana Agid, PhD, Dean of the School of Art & Media Technology. The 16 week course culminated in a digital fashion showcase earlier this month.
“We as a university wanted to work on this project because we want to learn what skill set students need to be successful on this platform,” Professor Kyle Li said. “[Roblox is] also interested in shifting their audience from 12 and younger to 17 to 24. And I thought, ‘We have the perfect specimen to test all those things.” As The Verge reported, “The Parsons course is an extension of Roblox trying to prove that it’s a viable and legitimate tool for adult life.” Roblox Founder and CEO David Baszucki is clear on this point: “Our goal is one platform, where age-appropriate experiences for every life stage can be found.”
Most of the Parsons students had not used Roblox prior to the course, but learned how digital design brings both new opportunities and limitations to their fashion expertise. “Working in digital gives you so much freedom in terms of the structures you want to have,” one student told The Verge. Another student told The Wall Street Journal: “You can make crazier looks for less money in the digital world. Fabrics are expensive.”
Digital fashion is nothing new, whether in Roblox, gaming, or other Metaverse iterations. For example, designer Rebecca Minkoff recently launched a collection for Roblox, noting this about digital fashion: “I don’t think this is going to go away.”
Other design schools, such as Drexel, Fashion Institute of Technology, Pratt Institute, Savannah College of Art and Design, offer courses in digital design/metaverse. Epic Games just invested in a digital fashion company. And Roblox recently started letting creators make money from selling limited-run avatar gear.
Now, I don’t care all that much about fashion generally, even less about digital fashion, but I am hugely interested in what appeals to younger generations and the inevitable movement to a more digital economy. And, I have to note, Roblox is interested not just in an older audience but also in healthcare in particular. A few examples:
- Early last year Akili Interactive partnered with Roblox to offer EndeavorRx®. its prescription video game treatment. Eddie Martucci, CEO and Co-Founder of Akili Interactive noted: “Roblox has changed how millions learn, work, connect and play, and we are excited to work together to further push the boundaries of our industries and continue to redefine the experience of medicine.”
- Last fall Philips Norelco rolled out Shavetopia in Roblox, as part of its broader Movember program promoting men’s physical and mental health. “We launched Shavetopia to extend the social conversation around Movember beyond the physical world and into the digital world,” said marketing director Viestel da Silva.
- Early this month Roblox Founder and CEO David Baszucki and his wife made a philanthropic gift to Stony Brook University so that biomedical engineer and neuroscientist Lilianne Mujica-Parodi can develop Neuroblox, a software program inspired by Roblox. The platform hopes “to open up a world of modeling possibilities for neuroscientists without training in computational sciences.” E.g., Roblox for neuroscientists.
- The American Heart Association is allowing its Heart Hero characters to be used for 30 days in Roblox game Race Clicker. AHA says: “This is an important opportunity for the American Heart Association to meet kids where they are to share the benefits of mental and physical health to help them grow to reach their full potential.”
And, of course, there are various health or health-related games and experiences offered on the platform.
We’re failing our kids generally when it comes to their health. We have a teen mental health crisis, fueled in no small part by social media. More than 40% of school-aged children have at least one chronic condition. The anti-vaxx movement, which was envigored but not started by COVID, could have devastating long-term impacts, particularly on children. And, of course, our healthcare system’s fumbling efforts towards more digital tools and interfaces baffle, frustrate, and turn off young people.
If healthcare thinks it is reaching young people through, say, Facebook, it is badly misreading its audience and badly underestimating how poorly Facebook protected patient data. If it wants to reach young people, it’s got to be thinking about gaming, Raspberry Pi, Scratch, TikTok,– and Roblox.
Think back to Roblox’s vision — “to reimagine the way people come together to create, play, explore, learn, and connect with one another.” — and tell me which of those goals you wouldn’t want a healthcare organization to share. Think about how Parsons is using Roblox to give its students new tools to approach fashion design, and tell me why medical schools and other healthcare institutions/organizations shouldn’t also be giving healthcare professionals similar tools to approach healthcare differently, like Dr. Mujica-Parodi is doing. Think about how healthcare needs to be more relevant to young people and tell me why Roblox wouldn’t help.
As I said before, I don’t know what a healthcare Roblox would look like. But I sure hope someone starts to figure it out — soon.
Kim is a former emarketing exec at a major Blues plan, editor of the late & lamented Tincture.io, and now regular THCB contributor.