Case Study: NanoSwarm: Invasion from Inner Space
Image Credits: nanoswarmthegame.com
NanoSwarm: Invasion from Inner Space is a game that is similar to Escape from Diab in that it is meant to generate behavior change in children to improve eating habits and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The game uses a space adventure based story line that features teenage scientists trying to save the world from an unknown condition.
The game was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDKK) of the National Institute of Health (NIH). The game developers worked with Children’s Nutrition Research Center of Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine to create a storyline that was rooted in both behavioral modification theories and evidence-based dietary information.
The user plays the game as a character nicknamed “Wings” who must fly a ship through the body of a character who has become sick from an unknown illness that threatens the health of the world. Clearly the parallels can be drawn between the unknown illness and type 2 diabetes in that there is an obesity epidemic among children in the U.S. This is a very interesting way to approach the topic of healthy eating, and fits in with Archimage CEO, Richard Buday who notes that when information is wrapped in stories, people will be more likely to retain the information. The target audience for this game is children, and the game employs the storyline in an effective manner that presents health information in an entertaining and engaging format.
NanoSwarm was also a part of the clinical trial “Video Game Play, Child Diet, and Physical Activity Behavior Change” (Baranowski et al., 2011), which found an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption, but no increase in physical activity. To develop a more immersive story, a book of the same title was released in conjunction with the game. This is a unique approach to engagement with the users in that it allows for an extension outside of game play, and might be an appealing element for parents.
Although there was no improvement seen with physical activity for either NanoSwarm or Escape from Diab, it is important to note that a game that does not have physical activity directly tied to the game play provides a difficult obstacle to overcome. Video games and books are by nature sedentary activities. Perhaps there is a possibility for future success if these games and stories were paired with some form of wearable health technology. That would allow for the participation in the story to be extended to the physical world of the player and hopefully promote physical activity. For example, when a user reaches a certain point in the story or game, they must get their heart rate to a target number and maintain it for an allotted time.
While the immersive nature of these story-based games is a strong foundation for the development of behavior changing health games, there is substantial room for improvement and expansion with a combination of current technology.
Perhaps if the games were mobile based and were tied directly into the health apps of the users phone there would be an increase in physical activity.
Baranowski, T., Baranowski, J., Thompson, D., Buday, R., Jago, R., Juliano Griffith, M., Watson, K. B. (2011). Video Game Play, Child Diet, and Physical Activity Behavior Change: A Randomized Clinical Trial. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 40(1), 33-38. Retrieved January 24, 2016.