How might we design a game that can persuade players to eat healthier and have a more balanced diet?
Game Concept Description
Targeted at kids, the player moves freely around a 3D gameworld resembling a local neighbourhood. Over a series of game-days they receive fun mini-assignments/goals like walking the dog, doing scooter-tricks with mates at the skate park, setting booby traps…
The player is regularly prompted to choose food to eat, to restore energy. Unspent energy is stored by their body as fat (indicated by Energy and Fat ‘health’ bars, and on-screen text). The healthy eating story is developed through this Food-Energy-Fat rule, and through dialogue between player and their mate (a computer/non-player character).
The player is required to visit the Doctor on occasion for a checkup, where they receive ‘factual information’ about fat/energy, and are prompted to ask questions (through interactive dialogue, curiosity-led dialogue).
The game concept is inspired and informed by:
- Firewatch (gameworld, movement and dialogue),
- UC Denver n.d., Root Causes that lead to: Unhealthy Eating (story development), and
- We Live Lighter – Toxic Fat
How the Game Persuades
The game concept was inspired by De la Hera’s model of persuasion. De la Hera’s model suggests in digital games we can design for persuasion at three levels: signs, system and context.
The player will customise their character to represent themselves (eg Saints Row 4 and Body Visualiser). Using a third person camera angle (field of view) they will be able to see ‘themselves’. Their body will change shape and be more/less lumbering [visual], and breathe lighter/heavier [sound persuasion] depending on what they eat and do. This complements the Energy/Fat bars [visual].
Text prompts, interactive dialogue and info shared by doctor [linguistic] will give players knowledge to understand their character’s changes/inform food choices. They will also be prompted to engage in dialogue with a mate/doctor to explore the issues of healthy eating in a way that suits their curiosity and prompts reflection.
The game is called Toxic. The word toxic will be introduced in the dialogue – intention is through gameplay ‘Toxic’ becomes a word kids use in the real world to identify, label and discuss unhealthy foods and behaviours. [linguistic]
Inspired by screen stories like The Goonies/ Stranger Things, and the mechanics in Firewatch, the player receives assignments/goals over walkie-talkie from their mate. The walkie-talkie also provides a platform to facilitate story development and reflection around healthy eating issues/decisions. [procedural/narrative]
Their ability to complete assignments is affected by Energy level, food intake. (Energy in some foods lasts longer than others). Obtaining food is a key task in the game. They make choices from the shop, home fridge and parents. [procedural]
They’ll begin to question food offered by parents as they see the effect food has on their energy/health (hopefully). Intention is they question their real parents and request healthier foods when they are offered junk. They’ll create their own narrative and meanings around healthy eating through playing the game [narrative].
It’s expected that emotional connection [affective] with the healthy eating issue will come through the combination of:
- seeing effects of food choices on the character’s body (which was sculpted to represent the actual player),
- chatting in a ‘normal’ way with a (computer) mate over walkie-talkie. The player will be given several response options at each stage in the dialogue, so they have more sense of control over the dialogue, can explore the lines of conversation that interest them,
- the realisation of what food their parents offer, in the game, but also in real life.
Although conceived as a single player game, a degree of social persuasion could be leveraged if the game was delivered through schools. Kids could extend the discussions they’d had in-game with their computer mate, to the real world with their actual mates.
(Donuts image from betterhealthvic)
This was written as part of an assignment in Serious Gaming by Erasmus University Rotterdam on Coursera. I found it was an excellent course.