What are you cackling at, fatty? Too few AVGs, that’s your problem.

During our cycle five readings, one of the research articles touched upon active video games (AVGs) as a means of fighting childhood obesity whether through an institutionalized setting or at home.

For some reason, I haven’t been able to shake this Abe Simpson quote during my research:

So I checked out current research relating specifically to AVGs as a means of combating childhood obesity.

As far as gaming as a means of physical activity is concerned, it’s obvious that any physical activity is better than none. But how effective are these videos games in achieving recommended levels of exercise and, more importantly, how do you get kids to keep playing them?

I remember playing Dance Dance Revolution in high school and several games on the first generation Nintendo Wii after it’s release. DDR, specifically, could induce a sweat if you played for a while. But it can lose it’s appeal rather quickly.

An example of playing it right:

There’s no point going into older research stating that, yes, AVGs can be a good cardio workout. That’s not the issue. The issue is continued exposure and use. The issue is motivation.

And luckily, research has grown now that we’ve largely accepted the data in regards to AVGs having value as physical exercise.

This weeks article titled The Narrative Impact of Active Video Games on Physical Activity Among Children: A Feasibility Study focuses on how to keep kids engaged in AVGs as a means of exercise. Their study specifically focuses on using narrative and storytelling within AVGs to incite intrinsic motivation as opposed to the extrinsic motivating factors that are often associated with traditional physical education courses in school environments.

My first concern going into the article was whether or not the authors would take locale into consideration. Some kids don’t grow up in great neighborhoods. Accessibility can be an issue for kids and their exercise habits, and it only makes sense that AVGs could be a great option here.

The authors acknowledge this issue, and state that “special attention was given to recruiting African American and Hispanic children, the racial and ethnic groups linked to higher rates of obesity” in the 8-12 year old kids that participated in the study (40 kids, age 8-12, 20 boys and 20 girls “between the 85th and 99th percentiles for body mass index (BMI)”) (Baranowski et al., 2016). The kids were also largely from a lower socioeconomic status.

The study, published in 2016, used Nintendo Wii Sports Resort: Swordplay Showdown. For their study, half the kids were shown a narrative cutscene created for the study before they began playing the game. The other 20 kids just started playing the game. The kids that watched the intro narrative did better when comparing steps per second.

However, their use of narrative has me concerned. The narrative focuses on health benefits and is told through sword fighting stick figures.

The best games that kids voluntarily play aren’t preachy. I think that the authors choosing to focus on narration as a means of intrinsic motivation is wonderful. I think they’re on the right track. But really focus on good storytelling in future research efforts. Preachy stick figures aren’t good storytelling. If you can create an excellent narrative and story arch, and you’re genuinely trying to focus your study on the intrinsic value of narratives, you don’t need to say a thing about health and exercise. Kids, and adults, will naturally lose themselves in a good narrative.

Perhaps that’s harsh. This is early research, and what they are doing is valuable, but this is my criticism for this week.

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