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 2015: 4.532). 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:

  • 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.

  • Players seated in front of the screen ready to play. Image sourced and copyright owned by authors.

    User-Centered Design of Serious Games for Older Adults Following 3 Years of Experience With Exergames for Seniors: A Study Design


    Background: Seniors need sufficient balance and strength to manage in daily life, and sufficient physical activity is required to achieve and maintain these abilities. This can be a challenge, but fun and motivational exergames can be of help. However, most commercial games are not suited for this age group for several reasons. Many usability studies and user-centered design (UCD) protocols have been developed and applied, but to the best of our knowledge none of them are focusing on seniors’ use of games for physical activity. In GameUp, a European cofunded project, some prototype Kinect exergames to enhance the mobility of seniors were developed in a user-centered approach. Objective: In this paper we aim to record lessons learned in 3 years of experience with exergames for seniors, considering both the needs of older adults regarding user-centered development of exergames and participation in UCD. We also provide a UCD protocol for exergames tailored to senior needs. Methods: An initial UCD protocol was formed based on literature of previous research outcomes. Senior users participated in UCD following the initial protocol. The users formed a steady group that met every second week for 3 years to play exergames and participate in the UCD during the 4 phases of the protocol. Several methods were applied in the 4 different phases of the UCD protocol; the most important methods were structured and semistructured interviews, observations, and group discussions. Results: A total of 16 seniors with an average age above 80 years participated for 3 years in UCD in order to develop the GameUp exergames. As a result of the lessons learned by applying the different methodologies of the UCD protocol, we propose an adjusted UCD protocol providing explanations on how it should be applied for seniors as users. Questionnaires should be turned into semistructured and structured interviews while user consultation sessions should be repeated with the same theme to ensure that the UCD methods produce a valid outcome. By first following the initial and gradually the adjusted UCD protocol, the project resulted in exergame functionalities and interface features for seniors. Conclusions: The main lessons learned during 3 years of experience with exergames for seniors applying UCD are that devoting time to seniors is a key element of success so that trust can be gained, communication can be established, and users’ opinions can be recorded. All different game elements should be taken into consideration during the design of exergames for seniors even if they seem obvious. Despite the limitations of this study, one might argue that it provides a best practice guide to the development of serious games for physical activity targeting seniors.

  • Virtual tour mode for learning. Image sourced and copyright owned by authors.

    Development of an Educational Game to Set Up Surgical Instruments on the Mayo Stand or Back Table: Applied Research in Production Technology


    Background: Existing research suggests that digital games can be used effectively for educational purposes at any level of training. Perioperative nursing educators can use games to complement curricula, in guidance and staff development programs, to foster team collaboration, and to give support to critical thinking in nursing practice because it is a complex environment. Objective: To describe the process of developing an educational game to set up surgical instruments on the Mayo stand or back table as a resource to assist the instructor in surgical instrumentation training for students and nursing health professionals in continued education. Methods: The study was characterized by applied research in production technology. It included the phases of analysis and design, development, and evaluation. The objectives of the educational game were developed through Bloom’s taxonomy. Parallel to the physical development of the educational game, a proposed model for the use of digital elements in educational game activities was applied to develop the game content. Results: The development of the game called “Playing with Tweezers” was carried out in 3 phases and was evaluated by 15 participants, comprising students and professional experts in various areas of knowledge such as nursing, information technology, and education. An environment was created with an initial screen, menu buttons containing the rules of the game, and virtual tour modes for learning and assessment. Conclusions: The “digital” nursing student needs engagement, stimulation, reality, and entertainment, not just readings. “Playing with Tweezers” is an example of educational gaming as an innovative teaching strategy in nursing that encourages the strategy of involving the use of educational games to support theoretical or practical classroom teaching. Thus, the teacher does not work with only 1 type of teaching methodology, but with a combination of different methodologies. In addition, we cannot forget that skill training in an educational game does not replace curricular practice, but helps.

  • Score table: personal and downloadable score table of the player. Image sourced and copyright owned by authors.

    Design of a Serious Game for Handling Obstetrical Emergencies


    Background: The emergence of new technologies in the obstetrical field should lead to the development of learning applications, specifically for obstetrical emergencies. Many childbirth simulations have been recently developed. However, to date none of them have been integrated into a serious game. Objective: Our objective was to design a new type of immersive serious game, using virtual glasses to facilitate the learning of pregnancy and childbirth pathologies. We have elaborated a new game engine, placing the student in some maternity emergency situations and delivery room simulations. Methods: A gynecologist initially wrote a scenario based on a real clinical situation. He also designed, along with an educational engineer, a tree diagram, which served as a guide for dialogues and actions. A game engine, especially developed for this case, enabled us to connect actions to the graphic universe (fully 3D modeled and based on photographic references). We used the Oculus Rift in order to immerse the player in virtual reality. Each action in the game was linked to a certain number of score points, which could either be positive or negative. Results: Different pathological pregnancy situations have been targeted and are as follows: care of spontaneous miscarriage, threat of preterm birth, forceps operative delivery for fetal abnormal heart rate, and reduction of a shoulder dystocia. The first phase immerses the learner into an action scene, as a doctor. The second phase ask the student to make a diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is made, different treatments are suggested. Conclusions: Our serious game offers a new perspective for obstetrical emergency management trainings and provides students with active learning by immersing them into an environment, which recreates all or part of the real obstetrical world of emergency. It is consistent with the latest recommendations, which clarify the importance of simulation in teaching and in ongoing professional development.

  • Scene from virtual environment (OLIVE) during team CPR training. Image sourced and copyright owned by authors.

    Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Training by Avatars: A Qualitative Study of Medical Students’ Experiences Using a Multiplayer Virtual World


    Background: Emergency medical practices are often team efforts. Training for various tasks and collaborations may be carried out in virtual environments. Although promising results exist from studies of serious games, little is known about the subjective reactions of learners when using multiplayer virtual world (MVW) training in medicine. Objective: The objective of this study was to reach a better understanding of the learners’ reactions and experiences when using an MVW for team training of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Methods: Twelve Swedish medical students participated in semistructured focus group discussions after CPR training in an MVW with partially preset options. The students’ perceptions and feelings related to use of this educational tool were investigated. Using qualitative methodology, discussions were analyzed by a phenomenological data-driven approach. Quality measures included negotiations, back-and-forth reading, triangulation, and validation with the informants. Results: Four categories characterizing the students’ experiences could be defined: (1) Focused Mental Training, (2) Interface Diverting Focus From Training, (3) Benefits of Practicing in a Group, and (4) Easy Loss of Focus When Passive. We interpreted the results, compared them to findings of others, and propose advantages and risks of using virtual worlds for learning. Conclusions: Beneficial aspects of learning CPR in a virtual world were confirmed. To achieve high participant engagement and create good conditions for training, well-established procedures should be practiced. Furthermore, students should be kept in an active mode and frequent feedback should be utilized. It cannot be completely ruled out that the use of virtual training may contribute to erroneous self-beliefs that can affect later clinical performance.

  • The Shots Game implementation of the Visual Probe paradigm. Image sourced and copyright owned by authors.

    Attentional Bias Modification With Serious Game Elements: Evaluating the Shots Game


    Background: Young adults often experiment with heavy use of alcohol, which poses severe health risks and increases the chance of developing addiction problems. In clinical patients, cognitive retraining of automatic appetitive processes, such as selective attention toward alcohol (known as “cognitive bias modification of attention,” or CBM-A), has been shown to be a promising add-on to treatment, helping to prevent relapse. Objective: To prevent escalation of regular use into problematic use in youth, motivation appears to play a pivotal role. As CBM-A is often viewed as long and boring, this paper presents this training with the addition of serious game elements as a novel approach aimed at enhancing motivation to train. Methods: A total of 96 heavy drinking undergraduate students carried out a regular CBM-A training, a gamified version (called “Shots”), or a placebo training version over 4 training sessions. Measures of motivation to change their behavior, motivation to train, drinking behavior, and attentional bias for alcohol were included before and after training. Results: Alcohol attentional bias was reduced after training only in the regular training condition. Self-reported drinking behavior was not affected, but motivation to train decreased in all conditions, suggesting that the motivational features of the Shots game were not enough to fully counteract the tiresome nature of the training. Moreover, some of the motivational aspects decreased slightly more in the game condition, which may indicate potential detrimental effects of disappointing gamification. Conclusions: Gamification is not without its risks. When the motivational value of a training task with serious game elements is less than expected by the adolescent, effects detrimental to their motivation may occur. We therefore advise caution when using gamification, as well as underscore the importance of careful scientific evaluation.

  • Quittr. Image sourced and copyright owned by authors.

    Quittr: The Design of a Video Game to Support Smoking Cessation


    Background: Smoking is recognized as the largest, single, preventable cause of death and disease in the developed world. While the majority of smokers report wanting to quit, and many try each year, smokers find it difficult to maintain long-term abstinence. Behavioral support, such as education, advice, goal-setting, and encouragement, is known to be beneficial in improving the likelihood of succeeding in a quit attempt, but it remains difficult to effectively deliver this behavioral support and keep the patient engaged with the process for a sufficient duration. In an attempt to solve this, there have been numerous mobile apps developed, yet engagement and retention have remained key challenges that limit the potential effectiveness of these interventions. Video games have been clearly linked with the effective delivery of health interventions, due to their capacity to increase motivation and engagement of players. Objective: The objective of this study is to describe the design and development of a smartphone app that is theory-driven, and which incorporates gaming characteristics in order to promote engagement with content, and thereby help smokers to quit. Methods: Game design and development was informed by a taxonomy of motivational affordances for meaningful gamified and persuasive technologies. This taxonomy describes a set of design components that is grounded in well-established psychological theories on motivation. Results: This paper reports on the design and development process of Quittr, a mobile app, describing how game design principles, game mechanics, and game elements can be used to embed education and support content, such that the app actually requires the user to access and engage with relevant educational content. The next stage of this research is to conduct a randomized controlled trial to determine whether the additional incentivization game features offer any value in terms of the key metrics of engagement–how much content users are consuming, how many days users are persisting with using the app, and what proportion of users successfully abstain from smoking for 28 days, based on user-reported data and verified against a biochemical baseline using cotinine tests. Conclusions: We describe a novel, and theoretically-informed mobile app design approach that has a broad range of potential applications. By using the virtual currency approach, we remove the need for the game to comprehensively integrate the healthy activity as part of its actual play mechanics. This opens up the potential for a wide variety of health problems to be tackled through games where no obvious play mechanic presents itself. The implications of this app are that similar approaches may be of benefit in areas such as managing chronic conditions (diabetes, heart disease, etc), treating substance abuse (alcohol, illicit drugs, etc), diet and exercise, eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating), and various phobias.

  • Quit Genius App. Image sourced and copyright owned by authors.

    Game On? Smoking Cessation Through the Gamification of mHealth: A Longitudinal Qualitative Study


    Background: Finding ways to increase and sustain engagement with mHealth interventions has become a challenge during application development. While gamification shows promise and has proven effective in many fields, critical questions remain concerning how to use gamification to modify health behavior. Objective: The objective of this study is to investigate how the gamification of mHealth interventions leads to a change in health behavior, specifically with respect to smoking cessation. Methods: We conducted a qualitative longitudinal study using a sample of 16 smokers divided into 2 cohorts (one used a gamified intervention and the other used a nongamified intervention). Each participant underwent 4 semistructured interviews over a period of 5 weeks. Semistructured interviews were also conducted with 4 experts in gamification, mHealth, and smoking cessation. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and thematic analysis undertaken. Results: Results indicated perceived behavioral control and intrinsic motivation acted as positive drivers to game engagement and consequently positive health behavior. Importantly, external social influences exerted a negative effect. We identified 3 critical factors, whose presence was necessary for game engagement: purpose (explicit purpose known by the user), user alignment (congruency of game and user objectives), and functional utility (a well-designed game). We summarize these findings in a framework to guide the future development of gamified mHealth interventions. Conclusions: Gamification holds the potential for a low-cost, highly effective mHealth solution that may replace or supplement the behavioral support component found in current smoking cessation programs. The framework reported here has been built on evidence specific to smoking cessation, however it can be adapted to health interventions in other disease categories. Future research is required to evaluate the generalizability and effectiveness of the framework, directly against current behavioral support therapy interventions in smoking cessation and beyond.

  • A typical usability testing session involving participant, equipment and gesture-based game. Image taken and copyright owned by authors.

    Usability Evaluation Methods for Gesture-Based Games: A Systematic Review


    Background: Gestural interaction systems are increasingly being used, mainly in games, expanding the idea of entertainment and providing experiences with the purpose of promoting better physical and/or mental health. Therefore, it is necessary to establish mechanisms for evaluating the usability of these interfaces, which make gestures the basis of interaction, to achieve a balance between functionality and ease of use. Objective: This study aims to present the results of a systematic review focused on usability evaluation methods for gesture-based games, considering devices with motion-sensing capability. We considered the usability methods used, the common interface issues, and the strategies adopted to build good gesture-based games. Methods: The research was centered on four electronic databases: IEEE, Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Springer, and Science Direct from September 4 to 21, 2015. Within 1427 studies evaluated, 10 matched the eligibility criteria. As a requirement, we considered studies about gesture-based games, Kinect and/or Wii as devices, and the use of a usability method to evaluate the user interface. Results: In the 10 studies found, there was no standardization in the methods because they considered diverse analysis variables. Heterogeneously, authors used different instruments to evaluate gesture-based interfaces and no default approach was proposed. Questionnaires were the most used instruments (70%, 7/10), followed by interviews (30%, 3/10), and observation and video recording (20%, 2/10). Moreover, 60% (6/10) of the studies used gesture-based serious games to evaluate the performance of elderly participants in rehabilitation tasks. This highlights the need for creating an evaluation protocol for older adults to provide a user-friendly interface according to the user’s age and limitations. Conclusions: Through this study, we conclude this field is in need of a usability evaluation method for serious games, especially games for older adults, and that the definition of a methodology and a test protocol may offer the user more comfort, welfare, and confidence.

  • A study on the validity of an interactive computer game to assess cognitive processes, reward mechanisms, and time perception in children aged 4-8 years. Image sourced and copyright owned by Peijnenborgh et al.

    A Study on the Validity of a Computer-Based Game to Assess Cognitive Processes, Reward Mechanisms, and Time Perception in Children Aged 4-8 Years


    Background: A computer-based game, named Timo’s Adventure, was developed to assess specific cognitive functions (eg, attention, planning, and working memory), time perception, and reward mechanisms in young school-aged children. The game consists of 6 mini-games embedded in a story line and includes fantasy elements to enhance motivation. Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the validity of Timo’s Adventure in normally developing children and in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Methods: A total of 96 normally developing children aged 4-8 years and 40 children with ADHD were assessed using the game. Clinical validity was investigated by examining the effects of age on performances within the normally developing children, as well as performance differences between the healthy controls and the ADHD group. Results: Our analyses in the normally developing children showed developmental effects; that is, older children made fewer inhibition mistakes (r=−.33, P=.001), had faster (and therefore better) reaction times (r=−.49, P<.001), and were able to produce time intervals more accurately than younger children (ρ=.35, P<.001). Discriminant analysis showed that Timo’s Adventure was accurate in most classifications whether a child belonged to the ADHD group or the normally developing group: 78% (76/97) of the children were correctly classified as having ADHD or as being in the normally developing group. The classification results showed that 72% (41/57) children in the control group were correctly classified, and 88% (35/40) of the children in the ADHD group were correctly classified as having ADHD. Sensitivity (0.89) and specificity (0.69) of Timo’s Adventure were satisfying. Conclusions: Computer-based games seem to be a valid tool to assess specific strengths and weaknesses in young children with ADHD.

  • Participant playing Virtual Dodgeball with HMD. Image sourced and copyright owned by authors Thomas et al.

    Effects of Visual Display on Joint Excursions Used to Play Virtual Dodgeball


    Background: Virtual reality (VR) interventions hold great potential for rehabilitation as commercial systems are becoming more affordable and can be easily applied to both clinical and home settings. Objective: In this study, we sought to determine how differences in the VR display type can influence motor behavior, cognitive load, and participant engagement. Methods: Movement patterns of 17 healthy young adults (8 female, 9 male) were examined during games of Virtual Dodgeball presented on a three-dimensional television (3DTV) and a head-mounted display (HMD). The participant’s avatar was presented from a third-person perspective on a 3DTV and from a first-person perspective on an HMD. Results: Examination of motor behavior revealed significantly greater excursions of the knee (P=.003), hip (P<.001), spine (P<.001), shoulder (P=.001), and elbow (P=.026) during HMD versus 3DTV gameplay, resulting in significant differences in forward (P=.003) and downward (P<.001) displacement of the whole-body center of mass. Analyses of cognitive load and engagement revealed that relative to 3DTV, participants indicated that HMD gameplay resulted in greater satisfaction with overall performance and was less frustrating (P<.001). There were no significant differences noted for mental demand. Conclusions: Differences in visual display type and participant perspective influence how participants perform in Virtual Dodgeball. Because VR use within rehabilitation settings is often designed to help restore movement following orthopedic or neurologic injury, these findings provide an important caveat regarding the need to consider the potential influence of presentation format and perspective on motor behavior.

  • Blood glucose monitor. Image source: License: public domain (CC0).

    Gamifying Self-Management of Chronic Illnesses: A Mixed-Methods Study


    Background: Self-management of chronic illnesses is an ongoing issue in health care research. Gamification is a concept that arose in the field of computer science and has been borrowed by many other disciplines. It is perceived by many that gamification can improve the self-management experience of people with chronic illnesses. This paper discusses the validation of a framework (called The Wheel of Sukr) that was introduced to achieve this goal. Objective: This research aims to (1) discuss a gamification framework targeting the self-management of chronic illnesses and (2) validate the framework by diabetic patients, medical professionals, and game experts. Methods: A mixed-method approach was used to validate the framework. Expert interviews (N=8) were conducted in order to validate the themes of the framework. Additionally, diabetic participants completed a questionnaire (N=42) in order to measure their attitudes toward the themes of the framework. Results: The results provide a validation of the framework. This indicates that gamification might improve the self-management of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes. Namely, the eight themes in the Wheel of Sukr (fun, esteem, socializing, self-management, self-representation, motivation, growth, sustainability) were perceived positively by 71% (30/42) of the participants with P value <.001. Conclusions: In this research, both the interviews and the questionnaire yielded positive results that validate the framework (The Wheel of Sukr). Generally, this study indicates an overall acceptance of the notion of gamification in the self-management of diabetes.

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