The Internet pales in comparison in terms of interactivity, says Lieberman, who received training in media and learning from instructors who helped create Sesame Street, the childrens educational program. The Internet is incredible, but not as fast or interactive as a video game, she says, adding that video games are also powerful learning environments because players receive feedback on their performance.
Lieberman oversees the Health Games Research program that funds studies in topics ranging from how motion-based games may help stroke patients progress faster in physical therapy to how people in substance-abuse treatment programs can practice skills and behaviors in a virtual world of a game to prevent relapses in the real world. Lieberman said the program received 118 applications, and this years grant recipients excelled in three areas: feasibility of the study, research design and team experience.
One 2008 grantee was the Communication Department at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Researchers there will explore how strategies of persuasion in a game can promote healthy behaviors in life through the Mindless Eating Challenge. In this virtual pet game, children between the ages of 10 and 14 choose from about a dozen pets and then must follow various tips in order to care for their pet of choice. The tips encourage kids to eat a hot breakfast, pause five seconds between bites, and avoid eating directly from a bag or container, according to J.P. Pollak, a Ph.D. student in information science at Cornell. The game is a cell phone application that kids can download.
Were designing game play that leads to higher motivation, Pollak says. The full study next year will last one full month, and we hope to see compliance with dietary tips.
For older students, there is BloomingLife: The Skeleton Chase, an interactive game designed to promote physical activity and healthy lifestyles among college freshmen at Indiana University in Bloomington. The School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation received $185,000 for this study, which involves a mystery on campus that takes eight weeks to solve as it unfolds in a variety of media: e-mail, Web sites, phone calls from fictional characters and physiological monitoring. Two groups of 45 college freshmenone collaborative, one competitivewill use this game as their laboratory component of their Foundations of Fitness and Wellness course. Jeanne Johnston, an assistant professor of kinesiology who is working on the study, says the project will develop a metric to evaluate the psychological aspect of the game play experience.
I see a tremendous amount of applications in a variety of settings, Johnston says. One area where this would work well: the work-site setting. People are naturally competitive, and they enjoy being able to track what theyre doing and working as a team. So I think all of those components of health games you can apply to a variety of populations.
That includes patient populations as well. In Redwood City, Calif., HopeLab was established in 2001 to develop a game that would give young people with cancer a sense of power and control over their disease, says Richard Tate, HopeLabs director of communications and marketing.
We engaged doctors, nurses, oncologists, game developers, game designers, patients and cell biologists to design a game that was accurate in a scientific perspective and also fun and entertaining, Tate says.
The result was Re-Mission, a video game introduced in May 2006. HopeLab conducted a randomized, controlled trial to test the effect of the game on adolescents and young adults with cancer. The study included 375 male and female cancer patients between the ages of 13 and 29 at 34 medical centers in Australia, Canada and the U.S. Preliminary findings showed that playing Re-Mission produced increases in quality of life, self-efficacy and cancer-related knowledge for adolescents and young adults with the disease.