Princeton, Nj — Twelve research teams in California, Florida, Indiana, Maine, North Carolina, New York, South Carolina, Vermont and Washington were awarded more than $2 million in grants to study how and if digital interactive games improve players' health behaviors and outcomes.

The 12 grantees, awarded up to $200,000 each, are leading one- to two-year studies of games that engage players — ranging in age from 8 to 98 — in physical activity and/or games that motivate them to improve their self-care (e.g., healthy lifestyle choices, prevention behaviors, chronic disease self-management and/or adherence to medical treatment plans).

The research is needed to help strengthen the evidence base that supports the development and use of these games, according to a release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This is the first round of grants to be awarded from the foundation through its Health Games Research national program, based at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“Health Games Research gives us a tremendous opportunity to advance the field,” says Debra Lieberman, director of the Health Games Research program. “Previous studies and clinical trials have shown that well-designed interactive games can significantly improve players' health-related knowledge, skills, behaviors and outcomes. The 12 new studies will give us deeper insights into how and why certain game designs are compelling, fun and effective, and for which types of people. This work will yield a broad spectrum of validated game design principles that game designers will be able to use to enhance the effectiveness of future health games and game technologies.”

The $8.25 million program studies everything from traditional video games on game consoles, hand-held game players, arcade machines, computers, Web sites and multi-player online worlds, to new kinds of games delivered, for example, by mobile networked computing, exertion interfaces (dance pads, cameras pointed at players, motion-detecting remote controllers), robots, interactive television, virtual environments, electronic toys, context-sensitive programs (using sensors, physiological and health monitors, and global positioning systems) or other emerging technologies that are becoming more affordable and accessible.

Cornell University's Department of Communication in Ithaca, NY, was a grant recipient for its Mindless Eating Challenge, a mobile phone game for younger adolescents that rewards good health habits and food choices. The grant will help study how strategies of persuasion in a game can promote healthy behaviors in daily life.

Researchers at Maine Medical Center in Portland, ME, another of the 12 grantees, will study its family-based exergaming program that uses Dance Dance Revolution. The study will assess players' amount, type and enjoyment of physical activity over time.

A total of 112 research proposals were submitted by universities, medical centers and game industry organizations across the country. In January 2009, Health Games Research will issue its next call for proposals, awarding up to an additional $2 million in grants in its second round of funding. For more information on the program, go to http://www.healthgamesresearch.org.