Teaching Humoral Medicine with a Game

As I wrote last week, I’ve begun conceptualizing an online game that teaches people about humoral medicine by having them practice it.

By creating a game where players use humoral medicine to treat patients, I hope to have them practice a form of historical thinking that is often simply dismissed today. Reading about historical medical practice is a useful introduction, but I believe that players will develop a deeper understanding of how humoral medicine worked as a system – when and how different treatments were used, how symptoms were interpreted, and how patients’ reacted to treatment – by putting that knowledge to work virtually. My main audience for this game is high school and college students who could use it as an additional resource when learning about the history of medicine, and I think a game like this could also be embedded in a museum exhibit.

Of course, turning a historical practice into a digital game isn’t an act of simple translation. Choices have to be made about how disease and treatment will work in the game. What is the specific historical model? After all, humoral medicine was remade and reinterpreted for millennia. What options are available to players? What medicines and treatments should be included? And in terms of gameplay, how much information should be given to players versus how much should they have to learn experimentally? All of these consideration reflect the limits and balancing needed in accurately reconstructing a historical practice in a new media.