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UC San Diego Researchers
Examine Health Benefits
of Video Games & Game Technologies

Grant Funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

May 29, 2008

By Kim Edwards

Tennis, boxing and bowling, all while playing video games? Could video games that require players to get up and move, also known as “exergames,” increase physical activity among users? That’s one of the questions researchers from University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) School of Medicine want to answer.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has awarded the UC San Diego Department of Family and Preventive Medicine a $198,000 grant to explore how interactive digital games could be designed to improve player health behaviors and outcomes. UC San Diego joins 11 other research teams supported in this first round of funding from Health Games Research, an RWJF national program established to support innovative research into the development and use of games to achieve desirable health outcomes.

SSD/XaviX, a Japanese technology company, whose US branch is located in San Diego, will provide UC San Diego researchers with the equipment. Adolescents, aged 11 to 15, will participate in studies designed to identify factors in exergames that motivate young people to play them. The researchers also will investigate how the social interactions that take place during game play influence health behavior change.

“We want to know what aspects about exergames, under what conditions, can capture an adolescent’s attention, particularly in an environment where there are a lot of alternative sedentary things to do such as watch TV, play non-active video games or sit at the computer,” says Gregory Norman, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine and the principal investigator in this research. “Working with XaviX on this research will give us an opportunity to determine what psychological factors need to be included in exergames to motivate and sustain adolescent physical activity levels.”

Health Games Research is headquartered at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The program is directed by Debra Lieberman, Ph.D., communication researcher in the university’s Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research; lecturer in the Department of Communication; and a leading expert in the research and design of interactive media for learning and health behavior change.  Health Games Research is funded by an $8.25 million grant from RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio, which supports innovative projects that may lead to breakthrough improvements in the future of health and health care.

“This groundbreaking study led by UC San Diego will identify new interactive behavioral health strategies to use in the design of future health games and technologies,” Lieberman said. “Together, the 12 studies funded in this round will help us better understand how people respond to various types of health games, and this will potentially lead to new game-based applications that can more effectively engage and motivate players to improve their health.”

The 12 grantees were selected from 112 research organizations that applied for Health Games Research funding during the first funding call, which focused on games that engage players in physical activity and/or games that promote and improve players’ self-care.  In January 2009, Health Games Research will issue its next call for proposals, awarding up to an additional $2 million in grants.

As UC San Diego and the other grantees conduct their studies, Health Games Research will provide them with ongoing assistance and research resources.

“We are excited to be working with UC San Diego on this project, as it is well aligned with our company’s mission to encourage everyone to take charge of their health by being more active in their daily lives. What is most exciting is that they will also measure social activity and its influence on health behavior change,” said Peter Newman, General Manager, SSD/XaviX.


Media Contact: Kim Edwards, 619-543-6163

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