Health Games Research: Advancing Effectiveness of Interactive Games for Health

An RWJF National Program

Dates of Program: September 2007 to September 2013

Description: Health Games Research provided scientific leadership to help build the emerging research field focused on health games and supported 21 research projects aimed at improving the design and effectiveness of health games intended to increase physical activity or improve self-care behaviors. Some projects tested existing games to achieve health goals while others designed and tested new health games. The games, targeted to diverse age and demographic groups, addressed a range of health topics and behaviors, used various game genres, and were played on technologies including traditional video game consoles, computers, mobile phones, exertion interfaces (e.g., dance pads), robots, social networks, and virtual worlds.

A companion initiative, the Games for Health Project, supported the field by convening conferences and providing game design consulting and leadership to the health games industry.

“These research projects comprise the largest single collection of people doing research in games for health anywhere on the planet. We helped establish a body of literature that would not have existed before.”—Paul Tarini, MA, RWJF senior program officer

Key Results

  • Health Games Research:

    • Substantially contributed to the evidence base for the health games field through research that tested a wide range of behavior change strategies in a variety of health games. The grantees produced 63 publications with 114 co-authors and made more than 150 conference presentations. The Health Games Research staff published 17 articles, book chapters, and reports that presented research findings or reviewed and synthesized the research literature, and they gave 62 conference presentations for major organizations in the fields of health care, health promotion, digital media, game design, education, grant making, journalism, and public policy.
    • Conducted two nationwide representative sample surveys, in 2010 and 2013, to identify the video game uses and preferences of people ages 1 to 93 in the United States. (In these surveys, a parent responded on behalf of their child aged 1 to 7. All people ages 8 to 93 responded to the online questions themselves.) The surveys gathered information about video game use, health game use, and reasons for playing video games. Findings from the extensive report include:
      • Seventy-seven percent of people ages 1 to 93 played video games in 2013, up from 68 percent in 2010.
      • About half of all video game players were female and about half were male, in both 2010 and 2013.
      • Forty-two percent of all video game players played health games in 2013, unchanged since 2010 (41%).
    • Created a searchable online Health Games Database that contains information about hundreds of health games and related publications, resources, organizations, and events
    • Widely disseminated and publicized grantees’ research findings, via press interviews, videos, social media posts, webinars, academic lectures and conference presentations, and publications in scientific journals
  • The Games for Health Project:

    • Held 10 annual Games for Health Conferences from 2005 to 2014. Hundreds of attendees included researchers, medical professionals, and game developers from Nintendo, TEDMED, the American Heart Association, and Lucasfilm, among others. Sessions featured an international array of speakers and covered topics such as exergames, physical therapy, disease management, health behavior change, biofeedback, rehabilitation, epidemiology, training, cognitive health, nutrition, and health education.
    • Created a new focus on Health Games for Everyone, to develop health games that could help everyone (healthy people and people with health conditions) improve their health. Promising areas include exergames, nutrition, and health finances.

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21 research projects discovered game design principles that can improve the effectiveness of health games.

“A growing body of research finds that well designed health games can be effective in improving players’ health-related knowledge, skills, attitudes, self-concepts, behaviors, and, as a result, health outcomes” said Debra Lieberman, PhD, director, Health Games Research