A child jumps around while playing a computer game modified by CSIRO. Jumps are recorded by an accelerometer, seen on the band around his waist.
Getting young gamers to be more active
CSIRO is using children’s desire to win when playing computer games as the motivation for getting them up off the couch.
18 July 2011 | Updated 14 October 2011
Our modern lifestyle is increasingly sedentary: we spend more and more time sitting down and not enough time being physically active.
Inadequate physical activity is a risk factor for negative health consequences including poor cardiovascular fitness and obesity.
Unfortunately many sedentary activities, such as playing computer games, are self-reinforcing: the more we play, the harder we find it to stop, let alone get up and take a walk.
What we did
Through the Preventative Health Flagship, CSIRO’s experts in information and communication technologies (ICT) have taken a computer game that is usually played sitting down and used player’s engagement with the game − their desire to win − to motivate them to get up and be physically active.
Children enjoyed playing the modified game and their parents were particularly pleased with how much exercise they got.
Researchers took the open source game Neverball, where players have a certain amount of time to guide a ball through a maze, and shortened the time.
The only way an average player can complete the maze and go on to the next level of the game is by getting up and jumping around. Every jump earns a second of game time.
Modified and unmodified versions of the game have been tested on 270 primary school children in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Those playing the modified game performed an average of 257 jumps in the 20 minutes they spent playing the game.
The number and intensity of the jumps were measured by a CSIRO-designed accelerometer that transmits data wirelessly to the game so players can see exactly how much time their physical effort is earning.
CSIRO’s approach can be applied to any game where there’s a parameter that can be measured, like time, and which it makes sense to reward, in the context of the game.
Our trials have shown children playing modified games spent 25% of their gaming time being active, whereas those playing unmodified games were active for just 3% of the time.
The children enjoyed playing the modified game as much if not more than the unmodified version and their parents were particularly pleased with how much exercise they seemed to be getting.
Physical activity is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.
We are currently verifying whether an increase in this particular kind of activity (mainly jumping around) actually translates into improved health outcomes for the children.
This work won the following awards:
- Tasmanian iAward, media and entertainment, 2011
- Tasmanian iAwards, research and development, 2010.
We are working with Tasmanian small business Secret Lab Pty Ltd on an active games application for the iPhone.
Listen to Computer games offering a healthy escape (Podcast 12 Aug 10).