Earlier this month saw news emerge that the Australian Heart Foundation were utilising gamification in an attempt to get people to adopt healthier lifestyles. Participants earned points for doing various healthy things, be they diet or exercise related, with rewards then given on either an individual or team basis.
Whilst such an approach isn’t new, it is gaining more exposure as the popularity of gamification rises. Research by the Keck School of Medicine reveals the possibilities when applying gamification to healthcare.
The research consisted of a ten week program whereby young and middle aged adults with a variety of lifestyles were studied. One group of participants were asked to keep an online diary of their physical activity.
The second group were also asked to keep an online diary, but this time gamification was added so that participants earned points for their exercise reporting. These points could be redeemed for virtual gifts for their online avatar. So no great shakes in the reward stakes.
After five weeks, the groups switched round. The findings revealed that despite the rewards being pretty trite, they did indeed have a positive impact. The gamified group exercised more frequently, leading to a drop in their BMI over the five week period.
Interestingly, the boost was sustained even though the games were stopped in the second five week period, and whilst both groups saw a boost in their health, the group using games achieved the best results.
“A big part of its success is that this program required the engagement of friends and family in tracking open-ended health goals,” said lead researcher Marientina Gotsis, director of the Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center at USC. “We wanted to see how different people would react to it and the results demonstrate that there is great potential in using even casual digital games to promote healthy lifestyles.”
“The game itself was designed to inspire wellness through participation in outdoor activities. We featured the virtual character participating in activities like going snorkeling, playing in the park, raking a zen garden and many other ideas that could increase physical activity,” she added.