Computer game add-on encourages physical activity

Engineers at CSIRO in Australia have 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 children’s desire to win.

CSIRO experts in information and communication technologies took a game that is usually played sitting down and devised a way for children 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 limited amount of time to guide a ball through a maze.

’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 three 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 added.

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

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

A child fitted with an accelerometer trials a computer game designed to encourage movement
A child fitted with an accelerometer trials a computer game designed to encourage movement