While researching health games and attempting to identify obstacles and opportunities, I had the opportunity to speak with Richard Buday, CEO of Archimage, a health game development studio that created both Nanoswarm and Escape from Diab.
Some of the insights that Mr. Buday offered into the development of a video game that is intended to improve a players health included that education and awareness alone are part of behavior change, but are not enough to guarantee that behavior change will occur. This is a sentiment that is shared by Renata Schiavo in Health Communication: From Theory to Practice.
Mr. Buday also noted that a challenge to creating a game that is focused on health, that on the other side of behavior change, education, and awareness is the necessity of incorporating fun into the design of the game. Regardless of how valuable the information is, people will not use a tool that is packaged as a “game” unless it is fun. This provided the developers at Archimage with an interesting challenge, in that unlike traditional video games, a serious video game (a video game that provides serious information) is that it must balance the science of behavior change with the fun necessary for a game to be successful.
Mr. Buday believes that a powerful tool to be used in serious video games is the creation of a compelling story. He notes the evolution of story-telling over time, and cited the changes, social perceptions and attitudes, that came about due to the power in the stories of well-known novels throughout history. He believes that if information is wrapped in stories, people are more likely to retain this information, and that we have evolved to seek out stories. We use stories to motivate, and that as language developed people began using stories to pass along valuable information. When a person identifies with a powerful story, they tend to emulate the characters.
He highlighted the importance of behavior modification theories, and recommended that any game development be based in psychology. A key takeaway from our discussion was that he pointed out that a game is a simulator for life.