Motivating Effects of Cooperative Exergame Play for Overweight and Obese Adolescents

Physical activity programs for overweight and obese teenagers often fail due to low motivation and interest, and other personal, social, and environmental factors that make it difficult to exercise regularly. This study examined effects of exergames on low-income overweight and obese inner-city high school students.  Exergames are video games that require physical exertion in order to play, and they offer game challenges and opportunities for social interaction that can make them compelling and fun.

This study recruited overweight and obese students from an urban public high school to play Wii Active exergames at school during lunchtime and after school.  They were randomly assigned either to play competitively against other students or cooperatively with a partner to earn points together as a team. After six months, researchers assessed individual participants’ intrinsic motivation by using validated survey instruments administered in interviews and measured energy expenditure with a hip-mounted Actical accelerometer.

Key Findings:

  • Students who played cooperatively were more highly intrinsically motivated to play the exergames than students who played competitively.
  • Students who were highly intrinsically motivated to play the exergames, such as having a desire for control and choice and a desire to achieve personal goals, expended more energy during game play than other students did, on average. 

This research, conducted with support from the Health Games Research national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, suggests that school-based programs that offer active video games to help overweight and obese youth get more physical activity can increase motivation and improve energy expenditure, especially if they involve cooperative teams instead of competitive game play and if they address player’s intrinsic motivations. A high attrition rate in this study—resulting, for example, from self-consciousness due to obesity, school truancy or drop-out, school transfer, lack of interest, pregnancy, safety concerns about walking home in the dark, and schedule conflicts—resulted in only 44 percent of the participants completing the study.