Health Games Research

Advancing Effectiveness of Interactive Games for Health

    • March 4, 2012

"Games are where people live. They can engage people in powerful ways and can motivate and support behavior change, especially when they are designed on the basis of well-researched strategies." – Debra Lieberman, program director, Health Games Research

Research on the design and effectiveness of health games can spur innovation by game developers and build an evidence base for consideration of games in health care treatment.

Health Games Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is exploring the tremendous potential of digital interactive games as tools to help people live healthier lives. Part of the Foundation’s larger commitment to health games, the program is directed by Debra Lieberman, PhD, a communication researcher specializing in the research and design of health games at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who works with her colleagues and program grantees to identify and validate approaches to health game design.

Since 2008, Health Games Research has awarded grants to 21 universities, medical centers, and other nonprofit organizations to discover fundamental principles of effective health game design that increase players’ physical activity or help improve their healthy behaviors or self-care.

Health Games Research grantees are testing and exploring different ways to design health games, including competition, collaboration, social comparison, social support, nurturing of characters, immersion in fictional worlds and alternate realities, and the rehearsal of behaviors related to food and alcohol.

Engaging Gamers

There is both an art and a science to designing health games that are appealing, engaging and impactful. Health Games Research provides the science. It works with game designers and artists to integrate well-tested principles of learning and behavior change into games that motivate players to improve their health habits and take better care of their health problems.

Whether developing an iPhone game that emulates the effects of smoking to help cut the cravings of smokers who want to quit, or studying the physical and emotional impact of family-based exergaming with Dance Dance Revolution on families with an overweight child, the work funded by RWJF’s Health Games Research is building an evidence base that will allow designers, providers, educators, and game players to most effectively harness the power of interactive games to improve health.

Health Games Database

As part of its RWJF grant, Health Games Research has developed the most comprehensive database of health games and related publications, resources, conferences, and organizations.

Follow RWJF, Health Games Research, and Games for Health on Twitter at @rwjf, @gamesresearch, and @gamesforhealth.