JMIR Publications

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), one of the most cited journals in health informatics (Impact Factor 2016: 5.175). JSG has a projected impact factor (2016) of 3.32. JSG is a multidisciplinary journal devoted to computer/web/mobile 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.

JMIR Serious Games is indexed in Pubmed, PubMed Central, and also in Thomson Reuters new Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI).


Recent Articles:

  • Source: Image created by the authors; Copyright: The authors; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Rehabilitation-Oriented Serious Game Development and Evaluation Guidelines for Musculoskeletal Disorders


    Background: The progress in information and communication technology (ICT) led to the development of a new rehabilitation technique called “serious game for functional rehabilitation.” Previous works have shown that serious games can be used for general health and specific disease management. However, there is still lack of consensus on development and evaluation guidelines. It is important to note that the game performance depends on the designed scenario. Objective: The objective of this work was to develop specific game scenarios and evaluate them with a panel of musculoskeletal patients to propose game development and evaluation guidelines. Methods: A two-stage workflow was proposed using determinant framework. The development guideline includes the selection of three-dimensional (3D) computer graphics technologies and tools, the modeling of physical aspects, the design of rehabilitation scenarios, and the implementation of the proposed scenarios. The evaluation guideline consists of the definition of evaluation metrics, the execution of the evaluation campaign, the analysis of user results and feedbacks, and the improvement of the designed game. Results: The case study for musculoskeletal disorders on the healthy control and patient groups showed the usefulness of these guidelines and associated games. All participants enjoyed the 2 developed games (football and object manipulation), and found them challenging and amusing. In particular, some healthy subjects increased their score when enhancing the level of difficulty. Furthermore, there were no risks and accidents associated with the execution of these games. Conclusions: It is expected that with the proven effectiveness of the proposed guidelines and associated games, this new rehabilitation game may be translated into clinical routine practice for the benefit of patients with musculoskeletal disorders.

  • Source: Image created by the authors; Copyright: The authors; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Gamification in Stress Management Apps: A Critical App Review


    Background: In today’s society, stress is more and more often a cause of disease. This makes stress management an important target of behavior change programs. Gamification has been suggested as one way to support health behavior change. However, it remains unclear to which extend available gamification techniques are integrated in stress management apps, and if their occurrence is linked to the use of elements from behavior change theory. Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the use of gamification techniques in stress management apps and the cooccurrence of these techniques with evidence-based stress management methods and behavior change techniques. Methods: A total of 62 stress management apps from the Google Play Store were reviewed on their inclusion of 17 gamification techniques, 15 stress management methods, and 26 behavior change techniques. For this purpose, an extended taxonomy of gamification techniques was constructed and applied by 2 trained, independent raters. Results: Interrater-reliability was high, with agreement coefficient (AC)=.97. Results show an average of 0.5 gamification techniques for the tested apps and reveal no correlations between the use of gamification techniques and behavior change techniques (r=.17, P=.20), or stress management methods (r=.14, P=.26). Conclusions: This leads to the conclusion that designers of stress management apps do not use gamification techniques to influence the user’s behaviors and reactions. Moreover, app designers do not exploit the potential of combining gamification techniques with behavior change theory.

  • Serious game evaluation test. Source: The authors; Copyright: The authors; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Medical Student Evaluation With a Serious Game Compared to Multiple Choice Questions Assessment


    Background: The gold standard for evaluating medical students’ knowledge is by multiple choice question (MCQs) tests: an objective and effective means of restituting book-based knowledge. However, concerns have been raised regarding their effectiveness to evaluate global medical skills. Furthermore, MCQs of unequal difficulty can generate frustration and may also lead to a sizable proportion of close results with low score variability. Serious games (SG) have recently been introduced to better evaluate students’ medical skills. Objectives: The study aimed to compare MCQs with SG for medical student evaluation. Methods: We designed a cross-over randomized study including volunteer medical students from two medical schools in Paris (France) from January to September 2016. The students were randomized into two groups and evaluated either by the SG first and then the MCQs, or vice-versa, for a cardiology clinical case. The primary endpoint was score variability evaluated by variance comparison. Secondary endpoints were differences in and correlation between the MCQ and SG results, and student satisfaction. Results: A total of 68 medical students were included. The score variability was significantly higher in the SG group (σ2 =265.4) than the MCQs group (σ2=140.2; P=.009). The mean score was significantly lower for the SG than the MCQs at 66.1 (SD 16.3) and 75.7 (SD 11.8) points out of 100, respectively (P<.001). No correlation was found between the two test results (R2=0.04, P=.58). The self-reported satisfaction was significantly higher for SG (P<.001). Conclusions: Our study suggests that SGs are more effective in terms of score variability than MCQs. In addition, they are associated with a higher student satisfaction rate. SGs could represent a new evaluation modality for medical students.

  • Source:; URL:; License: Public Domain (CC0).

    Guidelines for the Gamification of Self-Management of Chronic Illnesses: Multimethod Study


    Background: Gamification is the use of game elements and techniques in nongaming contexts. The use of gamification in health care is receiving a great deal of attention in both academic research and the industry. However, it can be noticed that many gamification apps in health care do not follow any standardized guidelines. Objective: This research aims to (1) present a set of guidelines based on the validated framework the Wheel of Sukr and (2) assess the guidelines through expert interviews and focus group sessions with developers. Methods: Expert interviews (N=6) were conducted to assess the content of the guidelines and that they reflect the Wheel of Sukr. In addition, the guidelines were assessed by developers (N=15) in 5 focus group sessions, where each group had an average of 3 developers. Results: The guidelines received support from the experts. By the end of the sixth interview, it was determined that a saturation point was reached. Experts agreed that the guidelines accurately reflect the framework the Wheel of Sukr and that developers can potentially use them to create gamified self-management apps for chronic illnesses. Moreover, the guidelines were welcomed by developers who participated in the focus group sessions. They found the guidelines to be clear, useful, and implementable. Also, they were able to suggest many ways of gamifying a nongamified self-management app when they were presented with one. Conclusions: The findings suggest that the guidelines introduced in this research are clear, useful, and ready to be implemented for the creation of self-management apps that use the notion of gamification as described in the Wheel of Sukr framework. The guidelines are now ready to be practically tested. Further practical studies of the effectiveness of each element in the guidelines are to be carried out.

  • Female nurse discussing over digital tablet with senior man. Source: iStock by Getty Images; Copyright: xmee; URL:; License: Licensed by the authors.

    Development, Usability, and Efficacy of a Serious Game to Help Patients Learn About Pain Management After Surgery: An Evaluation Study


    Background: Postoperative pain is a persistent problem after surgery and can delay recovery and develop into chronic pain. Better patient education has been proposed to improve pain management of patients. Serious games have not been previously developed to help patients to learn how to manage their postoperative pain. Objective: The aim of this study was to describe the development of a computer-based game for surgical patients to learn about postoperative pain management and to evaluate the usability, user experience, and efficacy of the game. Methods: A computer game was developed by an interdisciplinary team following a structured approach. The usability, user experience, and efficacy of the game were evaluated using self-reported questionnaires (AttrakDiff2, Postoperative Pain Management Game Survey, Patient Knowledge About Postoperative Pain Management questionnaire), semi-structured interviews, and direct observation in one session with 20 participants recruited from the general public via Facebook (mean age 48 [SD 14]; 11 women). Adjusted Barriers Questionnaire II and 3 questions on health literacy were used to collect background information. Results: Theories of self-care and adult learning, evidence for the educational needs of patients about pain management, and principles of gamification were used to develop the computer game. Ease of use and usefulness received a median score between 2.00 (IQR 1.00) and 5.00 (IQR 2.00) (possible scores 0-5; IQR, interquartile range), and ease of use was further confirmed by observation. Participants expressed satisfaction with this novel method of learning, despite some technological challenges. The attributes of the game, measured with AttrakDiff2, received a median score above 0 in all dimensions; highest for attraction (median 1.43, IQR 0.93) followed by pragmatic quality (median 1.31, IQR 1.04), hedonic quality interaction (median 1.00, IQR 1.04), and hedonic quality stimulation (median 0.57, IQR 0.68). Knowledge of pain medication and pain management strategies improved after playing the game (P=.001). Conclusions: A computer game can be an efficient method of learning about pain management; it has the potential to improve knowledge and is appreciated by users. To assess the game’s usability and efficacy in the context of preparation for surgery, an evaluation with a larger sample, including surgical patients and older people, is required.

  • Screen shot of application discussed in the article and pixabay image (montage). Source: The authors and Pixabay; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Using Computer Simulations for Investigating a Sex Education Intervention: An Exploratory Study


    Background: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are ongoing concerns. The best method for preventing the transmission of these infections is the correct and consistent use of condoms. Few studies have explored the use of games in interventions for increasing condom use by challenging the false sense of security associated with judging the presence of an STI based on attractiveness. Objectives: The primary purpose of this study was to explore the potential use of computer simulation as a serious game for sex education. Specific aims were to (1) study the influence of a newly designed serious game on self-rated confidence for assessing STI risk and (2) examine whether this varied by gender, age, and scores on sexuality-related personality trait measures. Methods: This paper undertook a Web-based questionnaire study employing between and within subject analyses. A Web-based platform hosted in the United Kingdom was used to deliver male and female stimuli (facial photographs) and collect data. A convenience sample group of 66 participants (64%, 42/66) male, mean age 22.5 years) completed the Term on the Tides, a computer simulation developed for this study. Participants also completed questionnaires on demographics, sexual preferences, sexual risk evaluations, the Sexual Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS), and the Sexual Inhibition Subscale 2 (SIS2) of the Sexual Inhibition/Sexual Excitation Scales-Short Form (SIS/SES - SF). Results: The overall confidence of participants to evaluate sexual risks reduced after playing the game (P<.005). Age and personality trait measures did not predict the change in confidence of evaluating risk. Women demonstrated larger shifts in confidence than did men (P=.03). Conclusions: This study extends the literature by investigating the potential of computer simulations as a serious game for sex education. Engaging in the Term on the Tides game had an impact on participants’ confidence in evaluating sexual risks.

  • What older people like to play. Source: Wikimedia; Copyright: Sigismund von Dobschütz; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution + ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA).

    What Older People Like to Play: Genre Preferences and Acceptance of Casual Games


    Background: In recent computerized cognitive training studies, video games have emerged as a promising tool that can benefit cognitive function and well-being. Whereas most video game training studies have used first-person shooter (FPS) action video games, subsequent studies found that older adults dislike this type of game and generally prefer casual video games (CVGs), which are a subtype of video games that are easy to learn and use simple rules and interfaces. Like other video games, CVGs are organized into genres (eg, puzzle games) based on the rule-directed interaction with the game. Importantly, game genre not only influences the ease of interaction and cognitive abilities CVGs demand, but also affects whether older adults are willing to play any particular genre. To date, studies looking at how different CVG genres resonate with older adults are lacking. Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate how much older adults enjoy different CVG genres and how favorably their CVG characteristics are rated. Methods: A total of 16 healthy adults aged 65 years and above playtested 7 CVGs from 4 genres: casual action, puzzle, simulation, and strategy video games. Thereafter, they rated casual game preference and acceptance of casual game characteristics using 4 scales from the Core Elements of the Gaming Experience Questionnaire (CEGEQ). For this, participants rated how much they liked the game (enjoyment), understood the rules of the game (game-play), learned to manipulate the game (control), and make the game their own (ownership). Results: Overall, enjoyment and acceptance of casual game characteristics was high and significantly above the midpoint of the rating scale for all CVG genres. Mixed model analyses revealed that ratings of enjoyment and casual game characteristics were significantly influenced by CVG genre. Participants’ mean enjoyment of casual puzzle games (mean 0.95 out of 1.00) was significantly higher than that for casual simulation games (mean 0.75 and 0.73). For casual game characteristics, casual puzzle and simulation games were given significantly higher game-play ratings than casual action games. Similarly, participants’ control ratings for casual puzzle games were significantly higher than that for casual action and simulation games. Finally, ownership was rated significantly higher for casual puzzle and strategy games than for casual action games. Conclusions: The findings of this study show that CVGs have characteristics that are suitable and enjoyable for older adults. In addition, genre was found to influence enjoyment and ratings of CVG characteristics, indicating that puzzle games are particularly easy to understand, learn, and play, and are enjoyable. Future studies should continue exploring the potential of CVG interventions for older adults in improving cognitive function, everyday functioning, and well-being. We see particular potential for CVGs in people suffering from cognitive impairment due to dementia or brain injury.

  • Motivation of Pokémon Go. Source:; Copyright: Mimzy; URL:; License: Public Domain (CC0).

    Who Is Still Playing Pokémon Go? A Web-Based Survey


    Background: Poor physical activity is one of the major health care problems in Western civilizations. Various digital gadgets aiming to increase physical activity, such as activity trackers or fitness apps, have been introduced over recent years. The newest products are serious games that incorporate real-life physical activity into their game concept. Recent studies have shown that such games increase the physical activity of their users over the short term. Objective: In this study, we investigated the motivational effects of the digital game “Pokémon Go” leading to continued use or abandonment of the game. The aim of the study was to determine aspects that motivate individuals to play augmented reality exergames and how this motivation can be used to strengthen the initial interest in physical activity. Methods: A total of 199 participants completed an open self-selected Web-based survey. On the basis of their self-indicated assignment to one of three predefined user groups (active, former, and nonuser of Pokémon Go), participants answered various questions regarding game experience, physical activity, motivation, and personality as measured by the Big Five Inventory. Results: In total, 81 active, 56 former, and 62 nonusers of Pokémon Go were recruited. When asked about the times they perform physical activity, active users stated that they were less physically active in general than former and nonusers. However, based on a subjective rating, active users were more motivated to be physically active due to playing Pokémon Go. Motivational aspects differed for active and former users, whereas fan status was the same within both groups. Active users are more motivated by features directly related to Pokémon, such as catching all possible Pokémon and reaching higher levels, whereas former users stress the importance of general game quality, such as better augmented reality and more challenges in the game. Personality did not affect whether a person started to play Pokémon Go nor their abandonment of the game. Conclusions: The results show various motivating elements that should be incorporated into augmented reality exergames based on the game Pokémon Go. We identified different user types for whom different features of the game contribute to maintained motivation or abandonment. Our results show aspects that augmented reality exergame designers should keep in mind to encourage individuals to start playing their game and facilitate long-term user engagement, resulting in a greater interest in physical activity.

  • Screenshot of the movement-game. Source: Figure 1 from; Copyright: the authors; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    A Blended Web-Based Gaming Intervention on Changes in Physical Activity for Overweight and Obese Employees: Influence and Usage in an Experimental Pilot Study


    Background: Addressing the obesity epidemic requires the development of effective interventions aimed at increasing physical activity (PA). eHealth interventions with the use of accelerometers and gaming elements, such as rewarding or social bonding, seem promising. These eHealth elements, blended with face-to-face contacts, have the potential to help people adopt and maintain a physically active lifestyle. Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the influence and usage of a blended Web-based gaming intervention on PA, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference among overweight and obese employees. Methods: In an uncontrolled before-after study, we observed 52 health care employees with BMI more than 25 kg/m2, who were recruited via the company’s intranet and who voluntarily participated in a 23-week Web-based gaming intervention, supplemented (blended) with non-eHealth components. These non-eHealth components were an individual session with an occupational health physician involving motivational interviewing and 5 multidisciplinary group sessions. The game was played by teams in 5 time periods, aiming to gain points by being physically active, as measured by an accelerometer. Data were collected in 2014 and 2015. Primary outcome was PA, defined as length of time at MET (metabolic equivalent task) ≥3, as measured by the accelerometer during the game. Secondary outcomes were reductions in BMI and waist circumference, measured at baseline and 10 and 23 weeks after the start of the program. Gaming elements such as “compliance” with the game (ie, days of accelerometer wear), “engagement” with the game (ie, frequency of reaching a personal monthly target), and “eHealth teams” (ie, social influence of eHealth teams) were measured as potential determinants of the outcomes. Linear mixed models were used to evaluate the effects on all outcome measures. Results: The mean age of participants was 48.1 years; most participants were female (42/51, 82%). The mean PA was 86 minutes per day, ranging from 6.5 to 223 minutes, which was on average 26.2 minutes per day more than self-reported PA at baseline and remained fairly constant during the game. Mean BMI was reduced by 1.87 kg/m2 (5.6%) and waist circumference by 5.6 cm (4.8%). The univariable model showed that compliance, engagement, and eHealth team were significantly associated with more PA, which remained significant for eHealth team in the multivariable model. Conclusions: This blended Web-based gaming intervention was beneficial for overweight workers in becoming physically active above the recommended activity levels during the entire intervention period, and a favorable influence on BMI and waist circumference was observed. Promising components in the intervention, and thus targets for upscaling, are eHealth teams and engagement with the game. Broader implementation and long-term follow-up can provide insights into the sustainable effects on PA and weight loss and into who benefits the most from this approach.

  • Image of the e-Bug Doctor Doctor game for students. Source: e-Bug website:; Copyright: belongs to the authors at Public Health England.; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Can Gaming Increase Antibiotic Awareness in Children? A Mixed-Methods Approach


    Background: e-Bug is a pan-European educational resource for junior and senior school children, which contains activities covering prudent antibiotic use and the spread, treatment, and prevention of infection. Teaching resources for children aged 7-15 years are complemented by a student website that hosts games and interactive activities for the children to continue their learning at home. Objective: The aim of this study was to appraise young people’s opinions of 3 antibiotic games on the e-Bug student website, exploring children’s views and suggestions for improvements, and analyzing change in their knowledge around the learning outcomes covered. The 3 games selected for evaluation all contained elements and learning outcomes relating to antibiotics, the correct use of antibiotics, and bacteria and viruses. Methods: A mixed methodological approach was undertaken, wherein 153 pupils aged 9-11 years in primary schools and summer schools in the Bristol and Gloucestershire area completed a questionnaire with antibiotic and microbe questions, before and after playing 3 e-Bug games for a total of 15 minutes. The after questionnaire also contained open-ended and Likert scale questions. In addition, 6 focus groups with 48 students and think-aloud sessions with 4 students who had all played the games were performed. Results: The questionnaire data showed a significant increase in knowledge for 2 out of 7 questions (P=.01 and P<.001), whereas all questions showed a small level of increase. The two areas of significant knowledge improvement focused around the use of antibiotics for bacterial versus viral infections and ensuring the course of antibiotics is completed. Qualitative data showed that the e-Bug game “Body Busters” was the most popular, closely followed by “Doctor Doctor,” and “Microbe Mania” the least popular. Conclusions: This study shows that 2 of the e-Bug antibiotic educational games are valuable. “Body Busters” effectively increased antibiotic knowledge in children and had the greatest flow and enjoyment. “Doctor Doctor” also resulted in increased knowledge, but was less enjoyable. “Microbe Mania” had neither flow nor knowledge gain and therefore needs much modification and review. The results from the qualitative part of this study will be very important to inform future modifications and improvements to the e-Bug games.

  • Monitor Your Avatar App. Image source: The authors.

    A Mobile, Avatar-Based App for Improving Body Perceptions Among Adolescents: A Pilot Test


    Background: One barrier to effectively treating weight issues among adolescents is that they tend to use social comparison instead of objective measures to evaluate their own health status. When adolescents correctly perceive themselves as overweight, they are more likely to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors. Objective: The purpose of this pilot test was to develop and assess acceptability and usability of an avatar-based, theoretically derived mobile app entitled Monitor Your Avatar (MYA). Methods: The MYA app was engineered for high school adolescents to identify, using avatars, what they thought they looked like, what they wanted to look like, and what they actually looked like based on body measurements. Results: The MYA app was pilot-tested with male and female adolescents aged 15-18 years to assess for acceptability and usability. A total of 42 students created and viewed their avatars. The majority of the adolescents were female (28/42, 67%), age 16 years (16/42, 38%), white (35/42, 83%), non-Hispanic (36/42, 86%), in grade 10 (20/42, 48%), healthy weight for females (23/28, 82%), and obese for males (7/14, 50%). The adolescents had positive reactions to the avatar app and being able to view avatars that represented them. All but one student (41/42, 98%) indicated some level of comfort viewing the avatars and would use the app in the future to see how their bodies change over time. Conclusions: Avatar-based mobile apps, such as the MYA app, provide immediate feedback and allow users to engage with images that are personalized to represent their perceptions and actual body images. This pilot study adds to the increasing but limited research of using games to improve health outcomes among high school adolescents. There is a need to further adapt the MYA app and gather feedback from a larger number of high school adolescents, including those from diverse backgrounds.

  • This picture shows an able-bodied participant playing the EMG controlled video games.

Image Source: the authors, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

    Game-Based Rehabilitation for Myoelectric Prosthesis Control


    Background: A high number of upper extremity myoelectric prosthesis users abandon their devices due to difficulties in prosthesis control and lack of motivation to train in absence of a physiotherapist. Virtual training systems, in the form of video games, provide patients with an entertaining and intuitive method for improved muscle coordination and improved overall control. Complementary to established rehabilitation protocols, it is highly beneficial for this virtual training process to start even before receiving the final prosthesis, and to be continued at home for as long as needed. Objective: The aim of this study is to evaluate (1) the short-term effects of a commercially available electromyographic (EMG) system on controllability after a simple video game-based rehabilitation protocol, and (2) different input methods, control mechanisms, and games. Methods: Eleven able-bodied participants with no prior experience in EMG control took part in this study. Participants were asked to perform a surface EMG test evaluating their provisional maximum muscle contraction, fine accuracy and isolation of electrode activation, and endurance control over at least 300 seconds. These assessments were carried out (1) in a Pregaming session before interacting with three EMG-controlled computer games, (2) in a Postgaming session after playing the games, and (3) in a Follow-Up session two days after the gaming protocol to evaluate short-term retention rate. After each game, participants were given a user evaluation survey for the assessment of the games and their input mechanisms. Participants also received a questionnaire regarding their intrinsic motivation (Intrinsic Motivation Inventory) at the end of the last game. Results: Results showed a significant improvement in fine accuracy electrode activation (P<.01), electrode separation (P=.02), and endurance control (P<.01) from Pregaming EMG assessments to the Follow-Up measurement. The deviation around the EMG goal value diminished and the opposing electrode was activated less frequently. Participants had the most fun playing the games when collecting items and facing challenging game play. Conclusions: Most upper limb amputees use a 2-channel myoelectric prosthesis control. This study demonstrates that this control can be effectively trained by employing a video game-based rehabilitation protocol.

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  • Training Working Memory in Adolescents using Serious Game Elements

    Date Submitted: Jul 6, 2017

    Open Peer Review Period: Jul 6, 2017 - Aug 31, 2017

    Background: Working memory capacity (WMC) has been found to be impaired in adolescents with various psychological problems, such as addictive behaviors. Training of WMC can lead to significant behavio...

    Background: Working memory capacity (WMC) has been found to be impaired in adolescents with various psychological problems, such as addictive behaviors. Training of WMC can lead to significant behavioral improvements, but is usually long and tedious, taxing motivation. Objective: We evaluated whether adding game elements to the training could help improve adolescents’ motivation to train while improving cognition. Methods: Eighty-four high school students were allocated to a WMC-training, a gamified WMC-training or a placebo condition. WMC, motivation to train, and drinking habits were assessed before and after training. Results: Self-reported evaluations did not show a self-reported preference for the game, but participants in the gamified WMC-training condition did train significantly longer. The game successfully increased motivation to train, but this effect faded over time. WMC increased equally in all conditions, but did not lead to significantly lower drinking. Conclusions: We recommend that future studies attempt to prolong this motivational effect, as it appeared to fade over time.