Helping kids who play computer games to be active

By August 12th, 2010

CSIRO has developed computer software that aims to encourage children to be more active when playing computer games.

Designed as an add-on to popular computer games that do not ordinarily encourage physical activity, it works by exploiting the children’s desire to win.

Through the Preventative Health Flagship, CSIRO experts in information and communication technologies (ICT) took a game that is usually played sitting down and devised a way for them to earn extra points if they jump up and down.

Dr Shlomo Berkovsky and his team developed the concept using the open source game Neverball, where players have a certain amount of time to guide a ball through a maze, and shortened the time.

“The only way an average player can complete the maze and go on to the next level of the game is by getting up and jumping around. Every jump earns a second of game time,” Dr Berkovsky said.

Modified and unmodified versions of the game were tested on 270 primary school children in Hobart, Tasmania. Those playing the modified game jumped an average of 257 times in the 20 minutes they spent playing the game.

Dr Berkovsky said the trials showed children playing modified games spent 25 per cent of their gaming time being active, whereas those playing unmodified games were active for just 3 per cent of the time.

“The children enjoyed playing the modified game as much if not more than the unmodified version and their parents were particularly pleased with how much exercise they seemed to be getting,” he said.

CSIRO’s approach can be applied to any game where there’s a parameter that can be measured, like time, and which it makes sense to reward, in the context of the game.

The work recently won the research and development (R&D) category of the 2010 Tasmanian iAwards, sponsored by the Australian Information Industry Association.