Two-Player Partnered Exergame for Obesity Prevention

Using Discrepancy in Players' Ability as a Strategy to Motivate Physical Activity

Physical inactivity can lead to obesity, which presents a major public health challenge in the United States. While active video games may help increase motivation for physical activity, few of these games take advantage of group dynamics to motivate increased exertion. This study examined effects of conjunctive partnership on exertion during active video game play.

Researchers assigned college students to play isometric abdominal exertion games on a mock-up of a motion sensing video game system. The study participants were assigned to play individually or to play on a team with a virtually-presented exercise partner that was manipulated to perform better than the study participant every time.  The team task was conjunctive.  That is, participants were told that their team would score only as well as the weaker player, so they became aware that their own performance would yield the team’s score because their virtual partner was performing better than they were.  The discrepancy between the performance of the study participant and the virtual partner was varied to discover the amount of discrepancy that would most greatly motivate the participant’s physical exertion and persistence at the exercise task.

Key Findings:

  • Study participants exerted themselves more and were more persistent in exercise when playing with a virtual partner in a conjunctive task than they were when playing individually. They exerted the most effort when paired with a virtual partner who performed moderately better in the game than they did, compared to the virtual partner performing only slightly better or extremely better.
  • Compared to study participants who played individually, participants who played with a virtual partner did not report higher subjective exertion even though they actually did have higher measures of exertion and persistence.

This research, conducted with support from the Health Games Research national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, suggests that playing active video games with a moderately better-performing virtual partner in a conjunctive task may lead to more exertion and effort than playing active games individually.