Experts

Playing Social Video Games Might Promote Healthy Behavior, Study Reports

Cheri Cheng
April 18, 2013 02:42 PM EDT

Parents have often expressed their hatred toward video games that are extremely violent and time consuming. Children who are so enamored by the latest games appear to be less social since they often spend hours in their rooms accomplishing levels and unlocking different prizes. But, much to parents' dismay, video games that have some sort of social aspect can in fact help improve a child's health. According to a new study done by researchers from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the Keck School of Medicine of USC, the USC School of Social Work and the University at Buffalo, SUNY, children who played social games also exercised more frequently.

The study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio linked to the national program, Health Games Research, analyzed young and middle-aged adults, who were allowed to bring family and friends into the experiment as well, for a course of ten-weeks. The researchers observed their lifestyles, particularly focusing on how active or not active they were. One group was randomly given the task of keeping an online diary reporting daily activity levels. Another group was asked to keep a similar diary and participated in social gaming, which provided a gamer with a network of friends that can help one pass levels and achieve goals. After the half way point of the experiment, the group switched roles.

The researchers concluded that the group that was required to keep an online journal and participated in social gaming also exercised more often than the other group. These social gamers lowered their body mass indexes (BMIs).

"A big part of its success is that this program required the engagement of friends and family in tracking open-ended health goals," said lead researcher Marientina Gotsis. "We wanted to see how different people would react to it and the results demonstrate that there is great potential in using even casual digital games to promote healthy lifestyles. The game itself was designed to inspire wellness through participation in outdoor activities. We featured the virtual character participating in activities like going snorkeling, playing in the park, raking a zen garden and many other ideas that could increase physical activity,"

This study can lead to the creation of a whole new type of video games. If researchers can create games that are both engaging and indirectly promoting physical activity, more people might be able to have a more active lifestyle.

The study was published in journal of Medical Internet Research.