Let’s Game Physical: Fighting Obesity with Game Mechanics

April 6, 2011 - 2 Comments

Obesity is a major public health concern. It can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep problems, cancer, and other disorders. Not to mention the emotional and psychological effects it can have. It can also, if left unchecked, become a life-long issue with overweight kids often becoming overweight adults and childhood obesity leading to increased mortality rates during adulthood.

One of the major factors leading to obesity is a lack of physical activity. Researchers have found that:
• Obese children were 35% less active on school days and 65% less active on weekends compared to non-obese children
• 25% of those adults who were considered active at ages 14 to 19 were also active adults, compared to 2% of those adults who were inactive at ages 14 to 19
• Children were 21.5% more likely to be overweight when watching 4+ hours of TV per day and 4.5% more likely to be overweight when using a computer one or more hours per day
• Currently at least 60% of the world’s population gets insufficient exercise

Disturbing facts for sure so the question is how can we motivate people to be more active? Gamification may just be a critical component in motivating and encouraging people to engage in physical activity. I touched on the Wii Fit Plus and Your Shape Fitness Evolved for Kinect in a previous blog post. However I have recently been introduced to some interesting examples that warrant further examination.

The Lappset Mobile Playground is one of my favorites because it not only drives physical activity it also encourages people to get outdoors and learn while playing. Lappset introduces games that leverage QR codes posted through-out a playground setting, for example Math&Mem. The math portion of the game consists of three different levels; easy, normal and hard. Easy or normal levels drive users to find the target sum by adding together numbers which can be found from the mobile tags attached to playground equipment. Hard level is a multiplication task where player will get the target number and then user must find two correct numbers from the play area and multiplying the sum of the two together constitute the target amount. See it in action in the below video.

Another great example of gaming physicality is Zamzee by HopeLab.

Zamzee is an online rewards program for tweens powered by physical activity. By wearing a Zamzee meter you can record how much you’re moving around. Everyday tasks, such as walking the dog, can be tracked and count towards earning rewards. The Zamsee meter connects to your computer and logs your activity. Then you can convert your activity to currency you can spend online in the Zamzee store. Richard Tate of HopeLab explains the objectives of Zamsee in the below video.

My last example is FootGaming Community Quest. I like this example a lot because it not only promotes physical activity using gaming dynamics it enables groups to come together via asynchronous activity and take the ‘currency’ earned via participation to go towards a cause that the participants believe in. According to the web site, “FootGaming Community Quest allows players to aggregate real world activity, the resulting social gold and a group effort toward unlocking funding to a community cause.” FootGaming Community Quest will also partner with exergame provides such as ExergameFitness or Positive Gaming, for example the iDANCE 4 Community quest option.

Sounds like fun to me, let’s game physical 🙂 What could be wrong with contributing to our own well being, while making personal connections with the people and an impact on the world around us? Game on folks!

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  1. Hi Dannette,

    I totally agree with you when you said, One of the major factors leading to obesity is a lack of physical activity.
    The creative use of game resources will benefit us all.

    • Glad you agree. I would love to see someone develop a program that gamed my copious time spent at a computer that incorporated physical activity as well. I have a work station at a treadmill at home but in the office I am much more sedintary…I fear people spend to much time sitting and not enough moving!