I recently had the privilege of attending a George Washington University Health Communication and Marketing symposia on Social Marketing and Games. It’s a topic that has seen significant growth in recent years, and being a big Scrabble nerd and Wii Just Dance buff, I had particular interest in. Whether using board games, video games, or playing cards, using games to encourage a specific behavior or outcome can be a powerful tool.
Symposia speaker Sussy Lungo from the Pan American Social Marketing Organization, demonstrated how her team has developed and used games to create discussion and awareness around HIV and STI prevention. Targeting high risk audiences, including potential sex workers and clients of sex workers, in countries such as Honduras or El Salvador can be extremely difficult. Lungo however, feels that using games is one way to make inroads around a topic that is often hard to discuss. By using card games with messaging built into the game at places such as bars and night clubs, game players have fun and the ice is broken for conversation around the topic in a safe way. Check out Lungo’s presentation here [PPT].
Video games that use exercise as part of the game, otherwise known as Excergaming, is another way to use games to promote positive behavior change. Karen McDonnell, PhD. shared preliminary results of a study she is conducting regarding using excergaming as a potential tool to help combat childhood obesity. With PE classes on the decline and obesity on the rise, why not embrace video games as a way complement traditional exercise for children? Dr. McDonnell’s preliminary findings show exergames are well liked by the participating children and that overweight/obese children enjoyed excergaming more than PE classes with peers. By using excergames to complement PE classes, video games can be used to help children get the recommended daily activity that they need and develop long term healthy behaviors. Read her full presentation here [PDF].
Perhaps the most thought provoking concept of the GW symposia was presented by the co-founder of Digital Mill, Ben Sawyer. By pushing us all to think of the WiiFit as a sustainable and personal digital health record, Sawyer opened our minds to the notion of individuals owning their own health information digitally. After all isn’t that what WiiFit does on a more basic level? Day after day it will log in your weight, BMI, and activity and capture it over time to chart progress. Check out the full presentation here.
After listening to Sawyer and the other speakers, I dared to envision a world where we all embrace the video game and own our own health information that we take to doctor visits with us, rather than relying on the infamous chart we never see. This could be a great way to reach and empower low literacy audiences. Now that’s a game I want to be playing!
What do you think? Are games a viable way to drive behavior change?