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), 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:

  • Screenshot of intervention for training postural balance (authors hold image copyright).

    Exposure to “Exergames” Increases Older Adults’ Perception of the Usefulness of Technology for Improving Health and Physical Activity: A Pilot Study


    Background: High rates of sedentary behaviors in older adults can lead to poor health outcomes. However, new technologies, namely exercise-based videogames (“exergames”), may provide ways of stimulating uptake and ongoing participation in physical activities. Older adults’ perceptions of the use of technology to improve health are not known. Objective: The study aimed to determine use and perceptions of technology before and after using a 5-week exergame. Methods: Focus groups determined habitual use of technology and the participant’s perceptions of technology to assist with health and physical activity. Surveys were developed to quantitatively measure these perceptions and were administered before and after a 5-week intervention. The intervention was an exergame that focused on postural balance (“Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012”). Games scores, rates of game participation, and enjoyment were also recorded. Results: A total of 24 healthy participants aged between 55 and 82 years (mean 70, SD 6 years) indicated that after the intervention there was an increased awareness that technology (in the form of exergames) can assist with maintaining physical activity (P<.001). High levels of enjoyment (Physical Activity Enjoyment Scale [PACES-8] score mean 53.0, SE 0.7) and participation rates over the whole study (83%-100%) were recorded. Conclusions: Older adults’ have low perception of the use of technology for improving health outcomes until after exposure to exergames. Technology, in the form of enjoyable exergames, may be useful for improving participation in physical activity that is relevant for older adults.

  • Screenshot of the app. Authors own the copyright of this image.

    Effects of Social Network Exposure on Nutritional Learning: Development of an Online Educational Platform


    Background: Social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook have the potential to enhance online public health interventions, in part, as they provide social exposure and reinforcement. Objective: The objective of the study was to evaluate whether social exposure provided by SNSs enhances the effects of online public health interventions. Methods: As a sample intervention, we developed Food Hero, an online platform for nutritional education in which players feed a virtual character according to their own nutritional needs and complete a set of virtual sport challenges. The platform was developed in 2 versions: a "private version" in which a user can see only his or her own score, and a "social version" in which a user can see other players’ scores, including preexisting Facebook friends. We assessed changes in participants’ nutritional knowledge using 4 quiz scores and 3 menu-assembly scores. Monitoring feeding and exercising attempts assessed engagement with the platform. Results: The 2 versions of the platform were randomly assigned between a study group (30 members receiving the social version) and a control group (33 members, private version). The study group's performance on the quizzes gradually increased over time, relative to that of the control group, becoming significantly higher by the fourth quiz (P=.02). Furthermore, the study group's menu-assembly scores improved over time compared to the first score, whereas the control group's performance deteriorated. Study group members spent an average of 3:40 minutes assembling each menu compared to 2:50 minutes in the control group, and performed an average of 1.58 daily sport challenges, compared to 1.21 in the control group (P=.03). Conclusions: This work focused on isolating the SNSs' social effects in order to help guide future online interventions. Our results indicate that the social exposure provided by SNSs is associated with increased engagement and learning in an online nutritional educational platform.

  • Screen Shot of Mommio.

    Training Vegetable Parenting Practices Through a Mobile Game: Iterative Qualitative Alpha Test


    Background: Vegetable consumption protects against chronic diseases, but many young children do not eat vegetables. One quest within the mobile application Mommio was developed to train mothers of preschoolers in effective vegetable parenting practices, or ways to approach getting their child to eat and enjoy vegetables. A much earlier version of the game, then called Kiddio, was alpha tested previously, but the game has since evolved in key ways. Objective: The purpose of this research was to alpha test the first quest, substantiate earlier findings and obtain feedback on new game features to develop an effective, compelling parenting game. Methods: Mothers of preschool children (n=20) played a single quest of Mommio 2 to 4 times, immediately after which a semi-structured interview about their experience was completed. Interviews were transcribed and double coded using thematic analysis methods. Results: Mothers generally liked the game, finding it realistic and engaging. Some participants had difficulties with mechanics for moving around the 3-D environment. Tips and hints were well received, and further expansion and customization were desired. Conclusions: Earlier findings were supported, though Mommio players reported more enjoyment than Kiddio players. Continued development will include more user-friendly mechanics, customization, opportunities for environment interaction, and food parenting scenarios.

  • ¡Cuídate! training room in Second Life.

    Using a Virtual Environment to Deliver Evidence-Based Interventions: The Facilitator's Experience


    Background: Evidence-based interventions (EBIs) have the potential to maximize positive impact on communities. However, despite the quantity and quality of EBIs for prevention, the need for formalized training and associated training-related expenses, such as travel costs, program materials, and input of personnel hours, pose implementation challenges for many community-based organizations. In this study, the community of inquiry (CoI) framework was used to develop the virtual learning environment to support the adaptation of the ¡Cuídate! (Take Care of Yourself!) Training of Facilitators curriculum (an EBI) to train facilitators from community-based organizations. Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the feasibility of adapting a traditional face-to-face facilitator training program for ¡Cuídate!, a sexual risk reduction EBI for Latino youth, for use in a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE). Additionally, two aims of the study were explored: the acceptability of the facilitator training and the level of the facilitators’ knowledge and self-efficacy to implement the training. Methods: A total of 35 facilitators were trained in the virtual environment. We evaluated the facilitators' experience in the virtual training environment and determined if the learning environment was acceptable and supported the acquisition of learning outcomes. To this end, the facilitators were surveyed using a modified community of inquiry survey, with questions specific to the Second Life environment and an open-ended questionnaire. In addition, a comparison to face-to-face training was conducted using survey methods. Results: Results of the community of inquiry survey demonstrated a subscale mean of 23.11 (SD 4.12) out of a possible 30 on social presence, a subscale mean of 8.74 (SD 1.01) out of a possible 10 on teaching presence, and a subscale mean of 16.69 (SD 1.97) out of a possible 20 on cognitive presence. The comparison to face-to-face training showed no significant differences in participants' ability to respond to challenging or sensitive questions (P=.50) or their ability to help participants recognize how Latino culture supports safer sex (P=.32). There was a significant difference in their knowledge of core elements and modules (P<.001). A total of 74% (26/35) of the Second Life participants did agree/strongly agree that they had the skills to deliver the ¡Cuídate! program. Conclusions: The results showed that participants found the Second Life environment to be acceptable to the learners and supported an experience in which learners were able to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to deliver the curriculum.

  • Physical activity app games for mobile phones.

    Health Behavior Theory in Physical Activity Game Apps: A Content Analysis


    Background: Physical activity games developed for a mobile phone platform are becoming increasingly popular, yet little is known about their content or inclusion of health behavior theory (HBT). Objective: The objective of our study was to quantify elements of HBT in physical activity games developed for mobile phones and to assess the relationship between theoretical constructs and various app features. Methods: We conducted an analysis of exercise and physical activity game apps in the Apple App Store in the fall of 2014. A total of 52 apps were identified and rated for inclusion of health behavior theoretical constructs using an established theory-based rubric. Each app was coded for 100 theoretical items, containing 5 questions for 20 different constructs. Possible total theory scores ranged from 0 to 100. Descriptive statistics and Spearman correlations were used to describe the HBT score and association with selected app features, respectively. Results: The average HBT score in the sample was 14.98 out of 100. One outlier, SuperBetter, scored higher than the other apps with a score of 76. Goal setting, self-monitoring, and self-reward were the most-reported constructs found in the sample. There was no association between either app price and theory score (P=.5074), or number of gamification elements and theory score (P=.5010). However, Superbetter, with the highest HBT score, was also the most expensive app. Conclusions: There are few content analyses of serious games for health, but a comparison between these findings and previous content analyses of non-game health apps indicates that physical activity mobile phone games demonstrate higher levels of behavior theory. The most common theoretical constructs found in this sample are known to be efficacious elements in physical activity interventions. It is unclear, however, whether app designers consciously design physical activity mobile phone games with specific constructs in mind; it may be that games lend themselves well to inclusion of theory and any constructs found in significant levels are coincidental. Health games developed for mobile phones could be potentially used in health interventions, but collaboration between app designers and behavioral specialists is crucial. Additionally, further research is needed to better characterize mobile phone health games and the relative importance of educational elements versus gamification elements in long-term behavior change.

  • Screenshots of Monster Manor. Children can input their blood glucose measurements using an on-screen numeric pad and earn virtual coins to buy various in-game items that are essential for progression through the game.

    Digital Games for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes: Underpinning Theory With Three Illustrative Examples


    Digital games are an important class of eHealth interventions in diabetes, made possible by the Internet and a good range of affordable mobile devices (eg, mobile phones and tablets) available to consumers these days. Gamifying disease management can help children, adolescents, and adults with diabetes to better cope with their lifelong condition. Gamification and social in-game components are used to motivate players/patients and positively change their behavior and lifestyle. In this paper, we start by presenting the main challenges facing people with diabetes—children/adolescents and adults—from a clinical perspective, followed by three short illustrative examples of mobile and desktop game apps and platforms designed by Ayogo Health, Inc. (Vancouver, BC, Canada) for type 1 diabetes (one example) and type 2 diabetes (two examples). The games target different age groups with different needs—children with type 1 diabetes versus adults with type 2 diabetes. The paper is not meant to be an exhaustive review of all digital game offerings available for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but rather to serve as a taster of a few of the game genres on offer today for both types of diabetes, with a brief discussion of (1) some of the underpinning psychological mechanisms of gamified digital interventions and platforms as self-management adherence tools, and more, in diabetes, and (2) some of the hypothesized potential benefits that might be gained from their routine use by people with diabetes. More research evidence from full-scale evaluation studies is needed and expected in the near future that will quantify, qualify, and establish the evidence base concerning this gamification potential, such as what works in each age group/patient type, what does not, and under which settings and criteria.

  • Image of social media and video gaming system developed based on focus group findings.
(cc) Tatla et al. CC-BY-SA-2.0, please cite as (

    Therapists’ Perceptions of Social Media and Video Game Technologies in Upper Limb Rehabilitation


    Background: The application of technologies, such as video gaming and social media for rehabilitation, is garnering interest in the medical field. However, little research has examined clinicians’ perspectives regarding technology adoption by their clients. Objective: The objective of our study was to explore therapists’ perceptions of how young people and adults with hemiplegia use gaming and social media technologies in daily life and in rehabilitation, and to identify barriers to using these technologies in rehabilitation. Methods: We conducted two focus groups comprised of ten occupational therapists/physiotherapists who provide neurorehabilitation to individuals with hemiplegia secondary to stroke or cerebral palsy. Data was analyzed using inductive thematic analysis. The diffusion of innovations theory provided a framework to interpret emerging themes. Results: Therapists were using technology in a limited capacity. They identified barriers to using social media and gaming technology with their clients, including a lack of age appropriateness, privacy issues with social media, limited transfer of training, and a lack of accessibility of current systems. Therapists also questioned their role in the context of technology-based interventions. The opportunity for social interaction was perceived as a major benefit of integrated gaming and social media. Conclusions: This study reveals the complexities associated with adopting new technologies in clinical practice, including the need to consider both client and clinician factors. Despite reporting several challenges with applying gaming and social media technology with clinical populations, therapists identified opportunities for increased social interactions and were willing to help shape the development of an upper limb training system that could more readily meet the needs of clients with hemiplegia. By considering the needs of both therapists and clients, technology developers may increase the likelihood that clinicians will adopt innovative technologies.

  • The image was developed by the research team that author Matthew Shepherd is a part of, so the  image is owned by them.

    The Design and Relevance of a Computerized Gamified Depression Therapy Program for Indigenous Māori Adolescents


    Background: Depression is a major health issue among Māori indigenous adolescents, yet there has been little investigation into the relevance or effectiveness of psychological treatments for them. Further, consumer views are critical for engagement and adherence to therapy. However, there is little research regarding indigenous communities’ opinions about psychological interventions for depression. Objective: The objective of this study was to conduct semistructured interviews with Māori (indigenous New Zealand) young people (taitamariki) and their families to find out their opinions of a prototype computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (cCBT) program called Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts (SPARX), a free online computer game intended to help young persons with mild to moderate depression, feeling down, stress or anxiety. The program will teach them how to resolve their issues on their own using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as psychotherapeutic approach. Methods: There were seven focus groups on the subject of the design and cultural relevance of SPARX that were held, with a total of 26 participants (19 taitamarki, 7 parents/caregivers, all Māori). There were five of the groups that were with whānau (family groups) (n=14), one group was with Māori teenage mothers (n=4), and one group was with taitamariki (n=8). The general inductive approach was used to analyze focus group data. Results: SPARX computerized therapy has good face validity and is seen as potentially effective and appealing for Māori people. Cultural relevance was viewed as being important for the engagement of Māori young people with SPARX. Whānau are important for young peoples’ well-being. Participants generated ideas for improving SPARX for Māori and for the inclusion of whānau in its delivery. Conclusions: SPARX computerized therapy had good face validity for indigenous young people and families. In general, Māori participants were positive about the SPARX prototype and considered it both appealing and applicable to them. The results of this study were used to refine SPARX prior to it being delivered to taitamariki and non-Māori young people. Trial Registration: The New Zealand Northern Y Regional Ethics Committee;; NTY/09/003; (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation/6VYgHXKaR).

  • 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.

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