Developing games for health promotion

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Changing health-related behaviours is extremely difficult. Every year healthcare organisations, charities and pharmaceutical companies develop public awareness campaigns on complex health issues and diseases in an attempt to encourage long-term behaviour change. However, a quick analysis of increasing obesity rates, reduced vaccination rates and incidence of STI’s shows us that current strategies are having minimal effect.

In addition to this data, we are also faced with numerous challenges when measuring long term behavioural change on a population level. Measurement of long-term behavioural change (in response to campaigns or interventions) requires recruitment of large groups of individuals that must be tracked for several years. This is challenging as many individuals may withdraw, relocate, or fail to provide full information for entire period. Behaviour change may also be measured through medical records, however medical records are often incomplete and difficult to obtain due to GDPR restrictions.

Over the last few decades there has been increasing interest in the use of video games as tools to change health-related behaviours. Games are an extremely popular media format. There are approximately 2.2 billion gamers worldwide. Games are also a great way to visualise and showcase complex health topics, as they allow players to experiment with different behaviours, without impacting real-life events.

Videos games promote positive behaviour change in health

The use of videos has been explored for a wide range of health topics including obesity, mental health, cancer, antibiotics, HIV, bowel health, asthma and STI’s. The Robert Wood Johnson project, Health Games Research, found that video games are effective in improving children’s health in multiple health areas including physical fitness and disease management.

Games are used for obesity and exercise interventions

Antibiotic Resistance

In 2017, our team released a mobile game called Bacteria Combat, that aimed to change attitudes and behaviours of young people towards bacteria and antibiotics. In the game, players battle against each other using different types of bacteria (good and bad) and antibiotics. The game shows that antibiotics do not work against resistant bacteria, and resistance to antibiotics can be detected in many types of bacteria. Our team showed that gameplay changed players attitudes towards antibiotics and bacteria. In a follow up with teachers, it was also reported that several students aimed to become microbiologists in their future careers.

Sexually transmitted infections

STD Pong was developed to reduce risky behaviours towards sex in Africa. STD Pong is a digital arcade styled game that simulates different types of risky behaviours (i.e not wearing condoms) and teaches players how to avoid them. CD4 Hunter, a mobile game developed by Drexel University (and our founder) teaches young people about how HIV infects the human body. The game is now used as a tool to educate young people with HIV/AIDS on the infection, with the goal being to improve their adherence to medication and treatments.

Gamification is being used increasingly to improve awareness on public health matters.


In 2019, the CDC launched ‘Shape of Health’ a challenge that aimed to develop a video game to combat obesity in women and girls. Applicants were asked to design a new game that would promote healthy behaviour in players to combat obesity.

The use of video games to change behaviours towards obesity also show great potential in areas such as the Isle of Man, where childhood obesity is on the rise.

Gaming analytics to model behaviours in health

Video games clearly hold immense potential for changing health-related behaviours of patients and the public. Our team aims to explore and expand this field through the use of game analytics. Game analytics are a great tool to track and measure player in-game behaviour. This data can is used by development teams to improve mechanics and gameplay, increasing uptake of game by audiences.

At Game Doctor, we are harnessing this technology in our health-related games to measure and predict health behaviours in our players. For patients, we aim to map knowledge gaps, attitudes and behaviours through their real-time and individual gameplay actions and events.

Our mission is to innovate the way we measure and capture health-related behavioural data. We believe that gaming is a great tool for this as we can provide patients and professionals with virtual health environments that mimic real-life scenarios in health.

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