Obesity is one of the major health epidemics that human beings struggle to deal with. Especially the young teens suffer majorly from this health issue. With the terrific advancement of technology, the kids now no longer want to stretch their limbs, instead they want to play video games at home. Video games have been scorned at because of their effects on the youngsters staying in their AI world, instead of getting out into the real world. But Amy Shirong Lu, assistant professor at Northeastern University, seems to think entirely different upon the subject.
Her research and the study which Lu co-led and was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, asked the possibility of a story increasing children’s physical activity while they’re playing active video games—games, such as Nintendo Wii Sports Resort, that engage users in physical exercise. The answer was obviously yes. It was found that the children in the study who watched a three-minute animated narrative before playing such a game took, on average, 18 percent more steps per each 10-second period and 42 percent more steps overall than those who did not.
The researchers recruited 40 overweight and obese children ages 8 to 11, with equal numbers of boys and girls. They randomly assigned half of the group to watch an animation before playing Nintendo’s “Wii Sports Resort: Swordplay Showdown” and the other half to jump immediately into the game.
One of the winning stories which acted as an accelerator in this experiment, The Door, depicts the story of a sleeping child who finds himself in a video game. The AI world is full of stick-figure people with a sword. The child, suddenly finding a sword, fights back, soon learning that the characters’ unhealthy lifestyles landed them there and the importance of exercising regularly.
“I’m interested in the psychological mechanisms that determine how stories change people’s views, attitudes, and behavior,” says Lu, who holds appointments in both the College of Arts, Media and Design and the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern. “Here we wanted to test whether stories, through their ability to suspend disbelief, increase attention, and provide characters to identify with, could motivate children to play active video games longer or more vigorously. And they did.”
The children in both groups were told they could play “Swordplay Showdown” for up to 30 minutes. “The children who had watched the animation were jumping up and down and holding the Wii remote control like a real sword,” says Lu. This was an evidence of their concentration on the clip of The Door which broadened their imagination.
“I’m curious about which narrative approach will motivate children more,” says Lu. “I want to take the research beyond the lab and into children’s homes, into their daily lives.”