JMIR Serious Games

A multidisciplinary journal on gaming and gamification for health education/promotion, teaching and social change.

Journal Description

JMIR Serious Games (JSG, ISSN 2291-9279) is a sister journal of the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), the top cited journal in health informatics (Impact Factor 2013: 4.7). JSG is a multidisciplinary journal devoted to computer/web applications that incorporate elements of gaming to solve serious problems such as health education/promotion, teaching and education, or social change.
The journal also considers commentary and research in the fields of video games violence and video games addiction.


Recent Articles:

  • Fantasy Baseball, ESPN Illustration.

    Active Fantasy Sports: Rationale and Feasibility of Leveraging Online Fantasy Sports to Promote Physical Activity


    Background: The popularity of active video games (AVGs) has skyrocketed over the last decade. However, research suggests that the most popular AVGs, which rely on synchronous integration between players’ activity and game features, fail to promote physical activity outside of the game or for extended periods of engagement. This limitation has led researchers to consider AVGs that involve asynchronous integration of players’ ongoing physical activity with game features. Rather than build an AVG de novo, we selected an established sedentary video game uniquely well suited for the incorporation of asynchronous activity: online fantasy sports. Objective: The primary aim of this study was to explore the feasibility of a new asynchronous AVG—active fantasy sports—designed to promote physical activity. Methods: We conducted two pilot studies of an active fantasy sports game designed to promote physical activity. Participants wore a low cost triaxial accelerometer and participated in an online fantasy baseball (Study 1, n=9, 13-weeks) or fantasy basketball (Study 2, n=10, 17-weeks) league. Privileges within the game were made contingent on meeting weekly physical activity goals (eg, averaging 10,000 steps/day). Results: Across the two studies, the feasibility of integrating physical activity contingent features and privileges into online fantasy sports games was supported. Participants found the active fantasy sports game enjoyable, as or more enjoyable than traditional (sedentary) online fantasy sports (Study 1: t8=4.43, P<.01; Study 2: t9=2.09, P=.07). Participants in Study 1 increased their average steps/day, t8=2.63, P<.05, while participants in Study 2 maintained (ie, did not change) their activity, t9=1.57, P=.15). In postassessment interviews, social support within the game was cited as a key motivating factor for increasing physical activity. Conclusions: Preliminary evidence supports potential for the active fantasy sports system as a sustainable and scalable intervention for promoting adult physical activity.

  • This figure is the TouchBall virtual environment.

    Virtual Rehabilitation for Multiple Sclerosis Using a Kinect-Based System: Randomized Controlled Trial


    Background: The methods used for the motor rehabilitation of patients with neurological disorders include a number of different rehabilitation exercises. For patients who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), the performance of motor rehabilitation exercises is essential. Nevertheless, this rehabilitation may be tedious, negatively influencing patients’ motivation and adherence to treatment. Objective: We present RemoviEM, a system based on Kinect that uses virtual reality (VR) and natural user interfaces (NUI) to offer patients with MS an intuitive and motivating way to perform several motor rehabilitation exercises. It offers therapists a new motor rehabilitation tool for the rehabilitation process, providing feedback on the patient’s progress. Moreover, it is a low-cost system, a feature that can facilitate its integration in clinical rehabilitation centers. Methods: A randomized and controlled single blinded study was carried out to assess the influence of a Kinect-based virtual rehabilitation system on the balance rehabilitation of patients with MS. This study describes RemoviEM and evaluates its effectiveness compared to standard rehabilitation. To achieve this objective, a clinical trial was carried out. Eleven patients from a MS association participated in the clinical trial. The mean age was 44.82 (SD 10.44) and the mean time from diagnosis (years) was 9.77 (SD 10.40). Clinical effectiveness was evaluated using clinical balance scales. Results: Significant group-by-time interaction was detected in the scores of the Berg Balance Scale (P=.011) and the Anterior Reach Test in standing position (P=.011). Post-hoc analysis showed greater improvement in the experimental group for these variables than in the control group for these variables. The Suitability Evaluation Questionnaire (SEQ) showed good results in usability, acceptance, security, and safety for the evaluated system. Conclusions: The results obtained suggest that RemoviEM represents a motivational and effective alternative to traditional motor rehabilitation for MS patients. These results have encouraged us to improve the system with new exercises, which are currently being developed.

  • How to assess serious games applied in healthcare.

    How to Systematically Assess Serious Games Applied to Health Care


    The usefulness and effectiveness of specific serious games in the medical domain is often unclear. This is caused by a lack of supporting evidence on validity of individual games, as well as a lack of publicly available information. Moreover, insufficient understanding of design principles among the individuals and institutions that develop or apply a medical serious game compromises their use. This article provides the first consensus-based framework for the assessment of specific medical serious games. The framework provides 62 items in 5 main themes, aimed at assessing a serious game’s rationale, functionality, validity, and data safety. This will allow caregivers and educators to make balanced choices when applying a serious game for healthcare purposes. Furthermore, the framework provides game manufacturers with standards for the development of new, valid serious games.

  • Diabetes Island Presentation photo. Image taken by the authors of the article.

    Diabetes Island: Preliminary Impact of a Virtual World Self-Care Educational Intervention for African Americans With Type 2 Diabetes


    Background: Diabetes is a serious worldwide public health challenge. The burden of diabetes, including prevalence and risk of complications, is greater for minorities, particularly African Americans. Internet-based immersive virtual worlds offer a unique opportunity to reach large and diverse populations with diabetes for self-management education and support. Objective: The objective of the study was to examine the acceptability, usage, and preliminary outcome of a virtual world intervention, Diabetes Island, in low-income African Americans with type 2 diabetes. The main hypotheses were that the intervention would: (1) be perceived as acceptable and useful; and (2) improve diabetes self-care (eg, behaviors and barriers) and self-care related outcomes, including glycemic control (A1C), body mass index (BMI), and psychosocial factors (ie, empowerment and distress) over six months. Methods: The evaluation of the intervention impact used a single-group repeated measures design, including three assessment time points: (1) baseline, (2) 3 month (mid intervention), and (3) 6 month (immediate post intervention). Participants were recruited from a university primary care clinic. A total of 41 participants enrolled in the 6 month intervention study. The intervention components included: (1) a study website for communication, feedback, and tracking; and (2) access to an immersive virtual world (Diabetes Island) through Second Life, where a variety of diabetes self-care education activities and resources were available. Outcome measures included A1C, BMI, self-care behaviors, barriers to adherence, eating habits, empowerment, and distress. In addition, acceptability and usage were examined. A series of mixed-effects analyses, with time as a single repeated measures factor, were performed to examine preliminary outcomes. Results: The intervention study sample (N=41) characteristics were: (1) mean age of 55 years, (2) 71% (29/41) female, (3) 100% (41/41) African American, and (4) 76% (31/41) reported annual incomes below US $20,000. Significant changes over time in the expected direction were observed for BMI (P<.02); diabetes-related distress (P<.02); global (P<.01) and dietary (P<.01) environmental barriers to self-care; one physical activity subscale (P<.04); and one dietary intake (P<.01) subscale. The participant feedback regarding the intervention (eg, ease of use, interest, and perceived impact) was consistently positive. The usage patterns showed that the majority of participants logged in regularly during the first two months, and around half logged in each week on average across the six month period. Conclusions: This study demonstrated promising initial results of an immersive virtual world approach to reaching underserved individuals with diabetes to deliver diabetes self-management education. This intervention model and method show promise and could be tailored for other populations. A large scale controlled trial is needed to further examine efficacy.

  • This is a royalty free image by digidreamgrafix (

    Assessing Video Games to Improve Driving Skills: A Literature Review and Observational Study


    Background: For individuals, especially older adults, playing video games is a promising tool for improving their driving skills. The ease of use, wide availability, and interactivity of gaming consoles make them an attractive simulation tool. Objective: The objective of this study was to look at the feasibility and effects of installing video game consoles in the homes of individuals looking to improve their driving skills. Methods: A systematic literature review was conducted to assess the effect of playing video games on improving driving skills. An observatory study was performed to evaluate the feasibility of using an Xbox 360 Kinect console for improving driving skills. Results: Twenty–nine articles, which discuss the implementation of video games in improving driving skills were found in literature. On our study, it was found the Xbox 360 with Kinect is capable of improving physical and mental activities. Xbox Video games were introduced to engage players in physical, visual and cognitive activities including endurance, postural sway, reaction time, eyesight, eye movement, attention and concentration, difficulties with orientation, and semantic fluency. However, manual dexterity, visuo-spatial perception and binocular vision could not be addressed by these games. It was observed that Xbox Kinect (by incorporating Kinect sensor facilities) combines physical, visual and cognitive engagement of players. These results were consistent with those from the literature review. Conclusions: From the research that has been carried out, we can conclude that video game consoles are a viable solution for improving user’s physical and mental state. In future we propose to carry a thorough evaluation of the effects of video games on driving skills in elderly people.

  • Screen shot of

    Just a Fad? Gamification in Health and Fitness Apps


    Background: Gamification has been a predominant focus of the health app industry in recent years. However, to our knowledge, there has yet to be a review of gamification elements in relation to health behavior constructs, or insight into the true proliferation of gamification in health apps. Objective: The objective of this study was to identify the extent to which gamification is used in health apps, and analyze gamification of health and fitness apps as a potential component of influence on a consumer’s health behavior. Methods: An analysis of health and fitness apps related to physical activity and diet was conducted among apps in the Apple App Store in the winter of 2014. This analysis reviewed a sample of 132 apps for the 10 effective game elements, the 6 core components of health gamification, and 13 core health behavior constructs. A regression analysis was conducted in order to measure the correlation between health behavior constructs, gamification components, and effective game elements. Results: This review of the most popular apps showed widespread use of gamification principles, but low adherence to any professional guidelines or industry standard. Regression analysis showed that game elements were associated with gamification (P<.001). Behavioral theory was associated with gamification (P<.05), but not game elements, and upon further analysis gamification was only associated with composite motivational behavior scores (P<.001), and not capacity or opportunity/trigger. Conclusions: This research, to our knowledge, represents the first comprehensive review of gamification use in health and fitness apps, and the potential to impact health behavior. The results show that use of gamification in health and fitness apps has become immensely popular, as evidenced by the number of apps found in the Apple App Store containing at least some components of gamification. This shows a lack of integrating important elements of behavioral theory from the app industry, which can potentially impact the efficacy of gamification apps to change behavior. Apps represent a very promising, burgeoning market and landscape in which to disseminate health behavior change interventions. Initial results show an abundant use of gamification in health and fitness apps, which necessitates the in-depth study and evaluation of the potential of gamification to change health behaviors.

  • Welcome screen for the game The Cure created by Max Nanis.

    The Cure: Design and Evaluation of a Crowdsourcing Game for Gene Selection for Breast Cancer Survival Prediction


    Background: Molecular signatures for predicting breast cancer prognosis could greatly improve care through personalization of treatment. Computational analyses of genome-wide expression datasets have identified such signatures, but these signatures leave much to be desired in terms of accuracy, reproducibility, and biological interpretability. Methods that take advantage of structured prior knowledge (eg, protein interaction networks) show promise in helping to define better signatures, but most knowledge remains unstructured. Crowdsourcing via scientific discovery games is an emerging methodology that has the potential to tap into human intelligence at scales and in modes unheard of before. Objective: The main objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that knowledge linking expression patterns of specific genes to breast cancer outcomes could be captured from players of an open, Web-based game. We envisioned capturing knowledge both from the player’s prior experience and from their ability to interpret text related to candidate genes presented to them in the context of the game. Methods: We developed and evaluated an online game called The Cure that captured information from players regarding genes for use as predictors of breast cancer survival. Information gathered from game play was aggregated using a voting approach, and used to create rankings of genes. The top genes from these rankings were evaluated using annotation enrichment analysis, comparison to prior predictor gene sets, and by using them to train and test machine learning systems for predicting 10 year survival. Results: Between its launch in September 2012 and September 2013, The Cure attracted more than 1000 registered players, who collectively played nearly 10,000 games. Gene sets assembled through aggregation of the collected data showed significant enrichment for genes known to be related to key concepts such as cancer, disease progression, and recurrence. In terms of the predictive accuracy of models trained using this information, these gene sets provided comparable performance to gene sets generated using other methods, including those used in commercial tests. The Cure is available on the Internet. Conclusions: The principal contribution of this work is to show that crowdsourcing games can be developed as a means to address problems involving domain knowledge. While most prior work on scientific discovery games and crowdsourcing in general takes as a premise that contributors have little or no expertise, here we demonstrated a crowdsourcing system that succeeded in capturing expert knowledge.

  • Public domain. Created by A. Gillum as part of his responsibilities at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine. A. Gillum is aware of how this image is being used and has provided permission.

    What Serious Video Games Can Offer Child Obesity Prevention

    Authors List:


    Childhood obesity is a worldwide issue, and effective methods encouraging children to adopt healthy diet and physical activity behaviors are needed. This viewpoint addresses the promise of serious video games, and why they may offer one method for helping children eat healthier and become more physically active. Lessons learned are provided, as well as examples gleaned from personal experiences.

  • Brain activations for the “phobic>clean” contrast.

    A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Assessment of Small Animals’ Phobia Using Virtual Reality as a Stimulus


    Background: To date, still images or videos of real animals have been used in functional magnetic resonance imaging protocols to evaluate the brain activations associated with small animals’ phobia. Objective: The objective of our study was to evaluate the brain activations associated with small animals’ phobia through the use of virtual environments. This context will have the added benefit of allowing the subject to move and interact with the environment, giving the subject the illusion of being there. Methods: We have analyzed the brain activation in a group of phobic people while they navigated in a virtual environment that included the small animals that were the object of their phobia. Results: We have found brain activation mainly in the left occipital inferior lobe (P<.05 corrected, cluster size=36), related to the enhanced visual attention to the phobic stimuli; and in the superior frontal gyrus (P<.005 uncorrected, cluster size=13), which is an area that has been previously related to the feeling of self-awareness. Conclusions: In our opinion, these results demonstrate that virtual stimulus can enhance brain activations consistent with previous studies with still images, but in an environment closer to the real situation the subject would face in their daily lives.


    Personal, Social, and Game-Related Correlates of Active and Non-Active Gaming Among Dutch Gaming Adolescents: Survey-Based Multivariable, Multilevel Logistic...


    Background: Playing video games contributes substantially to sedentary behavior in youth. A new generation of video games—active games—seems to be a promising alternative to sedentary games to promote physical activity and reduce sedentary behavior. At this time, little is known about correlates of active and non-active gaming among adolescents. Objective: The objective of this study was to examine potential personal, social, and game-related correlates of both active and non-active gaming in adolescents. Methods: A survey assessing game behavior and potential personal, social, and game-related correlates was conducted among adolescents (12-16 years, N=353) recruited via schools. Multivariable, multilevel logistic regression analyses, adjusted for demographics (age, sex and educational level of adolescents), were conducted to examine personal, social, and game-related correlates of active gaming ≥1 hour per week (h/wk) and non-active gaming >7 h/wk. Results: Active gaming ≥1 h/wk was significantly associated with a more positive attitude toward active gaming (OR 5.3, CI 2.4-11.8; P<.001), a less positive attitude toward non-active games (OR 0.30, CI 0.1-0.6; P=.002), a higher score on habit strength regarding gaming (OR 1.9, CI 1.2-3.2; P=.008) and having brothers/sisters (OR 6.7, CI 2.6-17.1; P<.001) and friends (OR 3.4, CI 1.4-8.4; P=.009) who spend more time on active gaming and a little bit lower score on game engagement (OR 0.95, CI 0.91-0.997; P=.04). Non-active gaming >7 h/wk was significantly associated with a more positive attitude toward non-active gaming (OR 2.6, CI 1.1-6.3; P=.035), a stronger habit regarding gaming (OR 3.0, CI 1.7-5.3; P<.001), having friends who spend more time on non-active gaming (OR 3.3, CI 1.46-7.53; P=.004), and a more positive image of a non-active gamer (OR 2, CI 1.07–3.75; P=.03). Conclusions: Various factors were significantly associated with active gaming ≥1 h/wk and non-active gaming >7 h/wk. Active gaming is most strongly (negatively) associated with attitude with respect to non-active games, followed by observed active game behavior of brothers and sisters and attitude with respect to active gaming (positive associations). On the other hand, non-active gaming is most strongly associated with observed non-active game behavior of friends, habit strength regarding gaming and attitude toward non-active gaming (positive associations). Habit strength was a correlate of both active and non-active gaming, indicating that both types of gaming are habitual behaviors. Although these results should be interpreted with caution because of the limitations of the study, they do provide preliminary insights into potential correlates of active and non-active gaming that can be used for further research as well as preliminary direction for the development of effective intervention strategies for replacing non-active gaming by active gaming among adolescents.

  • All SPARX characters.

    Views of Young People in Rural Australia on SPARX, a Fantasy World Developed for New Zealand Youth With Depression


    Background: A randomized control trial demonstrated that a computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (cCBT) program (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts [SPARX]) was an appealing and efficacious treatment for depression for adolescents in New Zealand. Little is known about the acceptability of computerized therapy programs for rural Australians and the suitability of computerized programs developed in one cultural context when used in another country. Issues such as accents and local differences in health care access might mean adjustments to programs are required. Objective: This study sought to explore the acceptability of SPARX by youth in rural Australia and to explore whether and how young people would wish to access such a program. Methods: Focus groups and semistructured interviews were conducted with 16 young people attending two youth-focused community services in a small, rural Tasmanian town. An inductive data-driven approach was used to identify themes using the interview transcripts as the primary data source. Interpretation was supported by demographic data, observer notes, and content analysis. Results: Participants reported that young people want help for mental health issues but they have an even stronger need for controlling how they access services. In particular, they considered protecting their privacy in their small community to be paramount. Participants thought computerized therapy was a promising way to increase access to treatment for youth in rural and remote areas if offered with or without therapist support and via settings other than school. The design features of SPARX that were perceived to be useful, included the narrative structure of the program, the use of different characters, the personalization of an avatar, “socialization” with the Guide character, optional journaling, and the use of encouraging feedback. Participants did not consider (New Zealand) accents off-putting. Young people believed the SPARX program would appeal to those who play computer games generally, but may be less appealing for those who do not. Conclusions: The findings suggest that computerized therapy offered in ways that support privacy and choice can improve access to treatment for rural youth. Foreign accents and style may not be off-putting to teenage users when the program uses a playful fantasy genre, as it is consistent with their expectation of fantasy worlds, and it is in a medium with which they already have a level of competence. Rather, issues of engaging design and confidential access appeared to be more important. These findings suggest a proven tool once formally assessed at a local level can be adopted cross-nationally.

  • Origin: ThinkMojo, rights belong to DietBet.

    DietBet: A Web-Based Program that Uses Social Gaming and Financial Incentives to Promote Weight Loss


    Background: Web-based commercial weight loss programs are increasing in popularity. Despite their significant public health potential, there is limited research on the effectiveness of such programs. Objective: The objective of our study was to examine weight losses produced by DietBet and explore whether baseline and engagement variables predict weight outcomes. Methods: DietBet is a social gaming website that uses financial incentives and social influence to promote weight loss. Players bet money and join a game. All players have 4 weeks to lose 4% of their initial body weight. At enrollment, players can choose to share their participation on Facebook. During the game, players interact with one another and report their weight loss on the DietBet platform. At week 4, all players within each game who lose at least 4% of initial body weight are declared winners and split the pool of money bet at the start of the game. Official weigh-in procedures are used to verify weights at the start of the game and at the end. Results: From December 2012 to July 2013, 39,387 players (84.04% female, 33,101/39,387; mean weight 87.8kg, SD 22.6kg) competed in 1934 games. The average amount bet was US $27 (SD US $22). A total of 65.63% (25,849/39,387) provided a verified weight at the end of the 4-week competition. The average intention-to-treat weight loss was 2.6% (SD 2.3%). Winners (n=17,171) won an average of US $59 (SD US $35) and lost 4.9% (SD 1.0%) of initial body weight, with 30.68% (5268/17,171) losing 5% or more of their initial weight. Betting more money at game entry, sharing on Facebook, completing more weigh-ins, and having more social interactions during the game predicted greater weight loss and greater likelihood of winning (Ps<.001). In addition, weight loss clustered within games (P<.001), suggesting that players influenced each others’ weight outcomes. Conclusions: DietBet, a social gaming website, reached nearly 40,000 individuals in just 7 months and produced excellent 4-week weight loss results. Given its reach and potential public health impact, future research may consider examining whether a longer program promotes additional weight loss.

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