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13 August 2012

Educational Health Games: Most Successful When Players Feel Similar to The Main Characters

Keywords: education, fruit, games, health, intervention, North America, computer, diet, experiment, gaming, interactive media, kids, learning, marketing, media, social marketing,

Educational health games can be an effective tool in preventing childhood obesity. However, according to a study in the Games for Health Journal, there is one important success factor that needs to be considered and that is ‘immersion’. The more children can relate to the main character and really absorb in the story line, the more children get immersed in the game and the more effective the health game is in stimulating healthy behavior.

Take aways

  • For educational health games to be effective in stimulating healthy behavior it is important that children are immersed (or ‘soaked up’) in the game. 
  • Game-immersion can be stimulated in three ways:
    • embed game characters with similar characteristics as the target audience;
    • make the game-story personally relevant;
    • stimulate interaction.

Study information

  • The question?

    Can educational health games increase healthy food choices and physical activity among children and what is the role of game immersion?

  • Who?

    97 10- to 12-year olds (mean age: 10,8 years old; 56% boys and 44% girls; 35% of the children were Caucasian, 27% African-American, 25% Hispanic and 10% other racial and ethnic groups). The group consisted of normal and overweight children (between 50th and 95th percentiles for BMI)

  • Where?

    Houston, United States

  • How?

    The children played the videogame called ‘Diab’. The game is about a boy named Deejay who is stuck in a horrible world called Diab. The only way to get out of this horrible world is to change his lifestyle into a healthier one. The game had nine sessions, each lasted for a minimum of 40 minutes. At the very beginning and after game play the participants had to indicate how much they liked three different healthy behaviors (eating fruit and vegetables, drinking water, being physically active), how much they were motivated to participate in these behaviors, and whether they believed in their own capacities to achieve these healthy behaviors (self-efficacy). They were also asked for their state of absorption in the narrative world of the game and their affection with the character (immersion).  

Facts and findings

  • Players who were more immersed (or ‘soaked up’) in the healthy video game, were more positive about eating fruit and vegetables. 
  • Immersed players were also more motivated to drink water and had a stronger belief in their own capacities to eat fruit and vegetables and to engage in physical activity. 
  • African-American and Hispanic players were more immersed in the game than Caucasian players. 
  • As a result, the game was more effective in stimulating healthy behaviors among African-Americans and Hispanics. 
  • An explanation for this is that the main characters had ethnic backgrounds that were similar to theirs. According to the researchers, similar characters help to increase the level of immersion, especially among the ethnic minorities.