Combating lifestyle disease through mobile-exergaming
The ongoing success of "Mission: Schweinehund"
by Ryan Malcolm 30 Jul 2018
Promising research focused on the positive effects of mobile exergaming for lifestyle disease patients has recently been placed into pre-print, co-led by the CDI’s Steffen P Walz.
Seeking methods to incite increased physical activity levels in users with type-2 diabetes, Professor Walz and his team, on behalf of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, collaborated with sports medical researchers and professional game developers to create Mission: Schweinehund, an interactive mobile game application that motivates users through entertaining exercise challenges and storytelling, and rewards for being active through in-game currency and perks that can further users’ experiences.
Research undertaken throughout 2017 and into 2018 proved a resounding success, as an intervention group were monitored over a 24-week period after being introduced to the application, where users exhibited a +6.4 increase on the intrinsic motivation index whilst physical activity increased significantly as well.
“It’s absolutely instrumental to see that there is value in creating applied games in order to improve health, and that this has been achieved over a longer period of time, in comparison to classical forms of intervention, and beyond the novelty stage – we all know how that new gym bike gets dusty after a few weeks” said Professor Walz.
Professor Walz’ and the research team’s trials targeted individuals between the ages of 45 and 70, a demographic that experiences a high incidence of type-2 diabetes, although he maintains that the game is applicable to all age groups.
“We can look into all kinds of usage rates for digital games and play in young age demographics,” Professor Walz said, “the starting point for lifestyle disease is becoming younger.
While the application is available for all ages, the initial build caters for an older demographic, where individuals are tasked with populating, maintaining and growing a small village through exercise and in-game currency, that they are awarded as a result of physical activity.
This design choice was fuelled by the reliance on walking and gardening as a viable and demographically known form of mild exercise for this older generation.
“We tried to really reflect the individual in the game… the game has a certain intelligence and adjusts to the player’s individual fitness level. We found that this tailoring, as well as a relaxed, comical look and feel, helps to maintain motivation.”
The Mission: Schweinehund project, which has been in development for three years, shines as an example of the impact on health that applied games and play can have when combined with digital technology.
“A lack of exercise is a fundamental issue in many cultures, we’re not physically active enough,” says Professor Walz.
“It’s very pleasing as a design innovation and game design researcher that this has actual impact, and it’s beautiful for us to see after several years of research and development how we have managed to transition this into a commercial reality as well.”
Professor Walz' research is available here: http://preprints.jmir.org/preprint/11444
(A gardening exercise – felling a tree, which is tracked by the smartphone’s camera and promotes medically appropriate movements.)