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Journal Description

JMIR Serious Games (JSG, ISSN 2291-9279; Impact Factor: 3.53) is a multidisciplinary journal devoted to computer/web/virtual reality/mobile applications that incorporate elements of gaming, gamification or novel hardware platforms such as virtual reality headsets or Microsoft Kinect to solve serious problems such as health behavior change, physical exercise promotion (exergaming), medical rehabilitation, diagnosis and treatment of psychological/psychiatric disorders, medical education, health 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.

The journal is indexed in PubMed, PubMed Central, DOAJ, and SCIE/Web of Science, and JCR (Journal Citation Reports) where it received an official impact factor by Clarivate. In June 2020, JSG received an impact factor of 3.53.  


Recent Articles:

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

    Effect of Computer Debriefing on Acquisition and Retention of Learning After Screen-Based Simulation of Neonatal Resuscitation: Randomized Controlled Trial


    Background: Debriefing is key in a simulation learning process. Objective: This study focuses on the impact of computer debriefing on learning acquisition and retention after a screen-based simulation training on neonatal resuscitation designed for midwifery students. Methods: Midwifery students participated in 2 screen-based simulation sessions, separated by 2 months, session 1 and session 2. They were randomized in 2 groups. Participants of the debriefing group underwent a computer debriefing focusing on technical skills and nontechnical skills at the end of each scenario, while the control group received no debriefing. In session 1, students participated in 2 scenarios of screen-based simulation on neonatal resuscitation. During session 2, the students participated in a third scenario. The 3 scenarios had an increasing level of difficulty, with the first representing the baseline level. Assessments included a knowledge questionnaire on neonatal resuscitation, a self-efficacy rating, and expert evaluation of technical skills as per the Neonatal Resuscitation Performance Evaluation (NRPE) score and of nontechnical skills as per the Anaesthetists’ Non-Technical Skills (ANTS) system. We compared the results of the groups using the Mann-Whitney U test. Results: A total of 28 midwifery students participated in the study. The participants from the debriefing group reached higher ANTS scores than those from the control group during session 1 (13.25 vs 9; U=47.5; P=.02). Their scores remained higher, without statistical difference during session 2 (10 vs 7.75; P=.08). The debriefing group had higher self-efficacy ratings at session 2 (3 vs 2; U=52; P=.02). When comparing the knowledge questionnaires, the significant baseline difference (13 for debriefing group vs 14.5 for control group, P=.05) disappeared at the end of session 1 and in session 2. No difference was found for the assessment of technical skills between the groups or between sessions. Conclusions: Computer debriefing seems to improve nontechnical skills, self-efficacy, and knowledge when compared to the absence of debriefing during a screen-based simulation. This study confirms the importance of debriefing after screen-based simulation. Trial Registration: NCT03844009;

  • Walking and reaching virtual reality challenges. Source: Image created by the Authors; Copyright: The Authors; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    A Graded Exposure, Locomotion-Enabled Virtual Reality App During Walking and Reaching for Individuals With Chronic Low Back Pain: Cohort Gaming Design


    Background: Chronic low back pain (cLBP) can interfere with daily activities, and individuals with elevated pain-related fear (also known as kinesiophobia or the fear of injury due to movement) can develop worse long-term disability. Graded exposure (GEXP) protocols use successive participation in avoided activities to help individuals overcome fearful movement appraisals and encourage activity. We sought to develop a series of GEXP virtual reality (VR) walking and reaching scenarios to increase the exposure and engagement of people with high kinesiophobia and cLBP. Objective: This study aims to (1) determine GEXP content validity of the VR application and (2) determine the feasibility of individuals with cLBP performing locomotion-enabled physical activities. Methods: We recruited 13 individuals with cLBP and high pain-related fear to experience six VR modules, which provide progressive movement exposure over three sessions in a 1 week period. At session 1, participants ranked each module by likelihood to avoid and assigned an expected pain and concern for harming their back rating to each module. Participants provided a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) after experiencing each module. To test feasibility, we administered the system usability scale (SUS) and treatment evaluation inventory (TEI) following the final session. In addition, we measured pain and pain-related fear at baseline and follow-up. Results: The 12 participants who completed the study period assigned higher avoidance (P=.002), expected pain (P=.002), and expected concern (P=.002) for session 3 modules compared with session 1 modules. RPE significantly increased from session 1 (mean 14.8, SD 2.3) to session 3 (mean 16.8, SD 2.2; P=.009). The VR application showed positive feasibility for individuals with cLBP through acceptable SUS (mean 76.7, SD 13.0) and TEI (mean 32.5, SD 4.9) scores. Neither pain (P=.20) nor pain-related fear (P=.58) changed significantly across sessions. Conclusions: The GEXP VR modules provided progressive exposure to physical challenges, and participants found the VR application acceptable and usable as a potential treatment option. Furthermore, the lack of significant change for pain and pain-related fear reflects that participants were able to complete the modules safely.

  • Source: The Authors / Placeit; Copyright: The Authors / Placeit; URL:; License: Licensed by JMIR.

    The Effects of Gamification on Computerized Cognitive Training: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis


    Background: There has been a growing interest in the application of gamification (ie, the use of game elements) to computerized cognitive training. The introduction of targeted gamification features to such tasks may increase motivation and engagement as well as improve intervention effects. However, it is possible that game elements can also have adverse effects on cognitive training (eg, be a distraction), which can outweigh their potential motivational benefits. So far, little is known about the effectiveness of such applications. Objective: This study aims to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to investigate the effect of gamification on process outcomes (eg, motivation) and on changes in the training domain (eg, cognition), as well as to explore the role of potential moderators. Methods: We searched PsycINFO, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, ProQuest Psychology, Web of Science, Scopus, PubMed, Science Direct, Excerpta Medica dataBASE, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Xplore, Association for Computing Machinery, and a range of gray-area literature databases. The searches included papers published between 2008 and 2018. Meta-analyses were performed using a random-effects model. Results: The systematic review identified 49 studies, of which 9 randomized controlled trials were included in the meta-analysis. The results of the review indicated that research in this context is still developing and lacks well-controlled empirical studies. Gamification in cognitive training is applied to a large range of age groups and audiences and is mostly delivered at a research site through computers. Rewards and feedback continue to dominate the gamification landscape, whereas social-oriented features (eg, competition) are underused. The meta-analyses showed that gamified training tasks were more motivating/engaging (Hedges g=0.72) and more demanding/difficult (Hedges g=–0.52) than non- or less-gamified tasks, whereas no effects on the training domain were found. Furthermore, no variables moderated the impact of gamified training tasks. However, meta-analytic findings were limited due to a small number of studies. Conclusions: Overall, this review provides an overview of the existing research in the domain and provides evidence for the effectiveness of gamification in improving motivation/engagement in the context of cognitive training. We discuss the shortcomings in the current literature and provide recommendations for future research.

  • EthoshuntTM as a Gamification-Based Mobile Application. Source: Image created by the authors; Copyright: Noor Syamilah Zakaria, M. Iqbal Saripan, Neerushah Subarimaniam & Alyani Ismail; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Assessing Ethoshunt as a Gamification-Based Mobile App in Ethics Education: Pilot Mixed-Methods Study


    Background: Gamification has remarkable potential in the learning space. The process of creating a gamified system and its influence on human behavior reflect the interaction between educators and machines. Objective: The purpose of this pilot study was to present Ethoshunt as a gamification-based mobile app that can be used in teaching and learning ethics. Methods: This study involved a mixed-methods research design. The researchers surveyed 39 undergraduate students who were introduced to Ethoshunt in order to examine the relationships between mobile app usability and positive emotions, ethical competency, and user experience. Affinity diagramming was used as a tool to organize the opinions and experiences of participants using featured gamification elements. Results: Game dynamics and game mechanics explained the functionality of Ethoshunt. In addition, the learning flow through Ethoshunt was discussed. Overall, the findings were positive, and mobile app usability had the strongest relationship with positive emotions (r=0.744, P<.001), followed by ethical competency (r=0.686, P<.001) and user experience (r=0.614, P<.001). Conclusions: Positive emotions could be perceived as an important dimension in the development and usability of Ethoshunt. The researchers suggest that the gamification-based mobile app advocated in this study may provide ideas for ethics educators who wish to develop a technology-mediated learning environment.

  • Application team leader using VR headset. Source: Image created by the Authors; Copyright: The Authors; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Exploring User Needs in the Development of a Virtual Reality–Based Advanced Life Support Training Platform: Exploratory Usability Study


    Background: Traditional methods of delivering Advanced Life Support (ALS) training and reaccreditation are resource-intensive and costly. Interactive simulations and gameplay using virtual reality (VR) technology can complement traditional training processes as a cost-effective, engaging, and flexible training tool. Objective: This exploratory study aimed to determine the specific user needs of clinicians engaging with a new interactive VR ALS simulation (ALS-SimVR) application to inform the ongoing development of such training platforms. Methods: Semistructured interviews were conducted with experienced clinicians (n=10, median age=40.9 years) following a single playthrough of the application. All clinicians have been directly involved in the delivery of ALS training in both clinical and educational settings (median years of ALS experience=12.4; all had minimal or no VR experience). Interviews were supplemented with an assessment of usability (using heuristic evaluation) and presence. Results: The ALS-SimVR training app was well received. Thematic analysis of the interviews revealed five main areas of user needs that can inform future design efforts for creating engaging VR training apps: affordances, agency, diverse input modalities, mental models, and advanced roles. Conclusions: This study was conducted to identify the needs of clinicians engaging with ALS-SimVR. However, our findings revealed broader design considerations that will be crucial in guiding future work in this area. Although aligning the training scenarios with accepted teaching algorithms is important, our findings reveal that improving user experience and engagement requires careful attention to technology-specific issues such as input modalities.

  • A participant playing AS IF and working on the game tasks in Virtual Reality. Source: Image created by the Authors; Copyright: The Authors; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Designing a Virtual Reality Game for Promoting Empathy Toward Patients With Chronic Pain: Feasibility and Usability Study


    Background: Many researchers have been evaluating how digital media may impact the emotional and perspective taking aspects of empathy in both clinical and nonclinical settings. Despite the growing interest in using virtual reality (VR) and VR games to motivate empathy, few studies have focused on empathy for people who live with chronic pain. Objective: Chronic pain affects, by conservative estimates, 1 in 5 people in industrialized countries. Despite this prevalence, public awareness of chronic pain was remarkably low until the recent opioid crisis; as a result, stigma remains a problem frequently faced by people who live with this condition. To address this, the VR game AS IF was developed to increase nonpatients’ empathy toward the growing number of people who live with long-term chronic pain. On the basis of our prior work, we overhauled our approach, designed and built a VR prototype and evaluated it, and offered design suggestions for future research. Methods: We introduced the design features of the VR game AS IF and described the study we devised to evaluate its effectiveness. We adopted a mixed methods approach and compared the empathy-related outcomes in both pre- and posttesting. A total of 19 participants were recruited. Results: The findings of this study suggest that the VR game was effective in improving implicit and explicit empathy as well as its emotional and perspective taking aspects. More specifically, for the Empathy Scale, the total pretest scores (mean 47.33, SD 4.24) and posttest scores (mean 59.22, SD 4.33) did not reach statistical significance (P=.08). However, we did find differences in the subscales. The kindness subscale showed a statistically significant increase in the posttest score (mean 15.61, SD 2.85) compared with the pretest score (mean 17.06, SD 2.65;P=.001). For the Willingness to Help Scale, a significant increase was observed from a t test analysis (P<.001) of scores before (mean 7.17, SD 2.28) and after (mean 8.33, SD 2.03) the gameplay. The effect size for this analysis was large (d=−1.063). Conclusions: The contributions of this research are as follows: AS IF provides a promising approach for designing VR games to motivate people’s empathy toward patients with chronic pain, the study evaluates the potential effectiveness of such a VR approach, and the general design suggestions devised from this study could shed light on future VR game systems.

  • Source: Image created by the Authors; Copyright: The Authors; URL:; License: Public Domain (CC0).

    User Experience of Interactive Technologies for People With Dementia: Comparative Observational Study


    Background: Serious games (SGs) are used as complementary approaches to stimulate patients with dementia. However, many of the SGs use out-of-the-shelf technologies that may not always be suitable for such populations, as they can lead to negative behaviors, such as anxiety, fatigue, and even cybersickness. Objective: This study aims to evaluate how patients with dementia interact and accept 5 out-of-the-shelf technologies while completing 10 virtual reality tasks. Methods: A total of 12 participants diagnosed with dementia (mean age 75.08 [SD 8.07] years, mean Mini-Mental State Examination score 17.33 [SD 5.79], and mean schooling 5.55 [SD 3.30]) at a health care center in Portugal were invited to participate in this study. A within-subject experimental design was used to allow all participants to interact with all technologies, such as HTC VIVE, head-mounted display (HMD), tablet, mouse, augmented reality (AR), leap motion (LM), and a combination of HMD with LM. Participants’ performance was quantified through behavioral and verbal responses, which were captured through video recordings and written notes. Results: The findings of this study revealed that the user experience using technology was dependent on the patient profile; the patients had a better user experience when they use technologies with direct interaction configuration as opposed to indirect interaction configuration in terms of assistance required (P=.01) and comprehension (P=.01); the participants did not trigger any emotional responses when using any of the technologies; the participants’ performance was task-dependent; the most cost-effective technology was the mouse, whereas the least cost-effective was AR; and all the technologies, except for one (HMD with LM), were not exposed to external hazards. Conclusions: Most participants were able to perform tasks using out-of-the-shelf technologies. However, there is no perfect technology, as they are not explicitly designed to address the needs and skills of people with dementia. Here, we propose a set of guidelines that aim to help health professionals and engineers maximize user experience when using such technologies for the population with dementia.

  • Source: Pexels; Copyright: Fauxels; URL:; License: Licensed by JMIR.

    An Immersive Multi-User Virtual Reality for Emergency Simulation Training: Usability Study


    Background: Virtual reality (VR) is increasingly used as simulation technology in emergency medicine education and training, in particular for training nontechnical skills. Experimental studies comparing teaching and learning in VR with traditional training media often demonstrate the equivalence or even superiority regarding particular variables of learning or training effectiveness. Objective: In the EPICSAVE (Enhanced Paramedic Vocational Training with Serious Games and Virtual Environments) project, a highly immersive room-scaled multi-user 3-dimensional VR simulation environment was developed. In this feasibility study, we wanted to gain initial insights into the training effectiveness and media use factors influencing learning and training in VR. Methods: The virtual emergency scenario was anaphylaxis grade III with shock, swelling of the upper and lower respiratory tract, as well as skin symptoms in a 5-year-old girl (virtual patient) visiting an indoor family amusement park with her grandfather (virtual agent). A cross-sectional, one-group pretest and posttest design was used to evaluate the training effectiveness and quality of the training execution. The sample included 18 active emergency physicians. Results: The 18 participants rated the VR simulation training positive in terms of training effectiveness and quality of the training execution. A strong, significant correlation (r=.53, P=.01) between experiencing presence and assessing training effectiveness was observed. Perceived limitations in usability and a relatively high extraneous cognitive load reduced this positive effect. Conclusions: The training within the virtual simulation environment was rated as an effective educational approach. Specific media use factors appear to modulate training effectiveness (ie, improvement through “experience of presence” or reduction through perceived limitations in usability). These factors should be specific targets in the further development of this VR simulation training.

  • Source: iStock (Stock photo ID:529407857); Copyright: Tetmc; URL:; License: Licensed by the authors.

    Mapping Behavioral Health Serious Game Interventions for Adults With Chronic Illness: Scoping Review


    Background: Serious games for health are increasingly being used to address health outcomes in patients with chronic illnesses. These studies vary in their study designs, patient populations, frameworks, outcome variables, and degree of specificity of the serious game intervention. Objective: This scoping review aims to clarify the conceptual features of the existing research related to serious games designed to improve cognitive and behavioral outcomes in adults with chronic illness. Methods: We applied the Preferred Reporting Items of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis for scoping reviews (PRISMA-ScR) methodology, including an a priori research question. We searched 4 electronic databases to identify articles published through November 2019. Inclusion criteria encompassed (1) adults 18 years or older; (2) patients with a diagnosis of chronic illness; (3) a serious game intervention; and (4) defined patient outcomes that assess patients’ behavioral, cognitive, or health outcomes. Results: Of the 3305 articles identified, 38 were included in the review. We charted and analyzed the theoretical frameworks, key concepts, and outcome variables of these studies with summaries of features across articles. The majority of studies used a randomized controlled trial design (23/38, 61%), included a custom serious game intervention (22/38, 58%), and lacked a theoretical framework (25/38, 66%). Common outcome variables included quality of life (16/38, 42%), mood (15/38, 39%), cognitive function (13/38, 34%), symptoms (12/38, 32%), and physical activity (9/38, 24%). Key differences between studies included whether or not serious games aimed to train versus teach patients, be widely accessible versus tailored interventions, or replace versus complement current treatments. Conclusions: This scoping review defines the current landscape of research in serious games for health research targeting behavioral and cognitive outcomes in adults with chronic disease. Studies have addressed a variety of patient populations and diverse patient outcomes. Researchers wanting to build on the current research should integrate theoretical frameworks into the design of the intervention and trial to more clearly articulate the active ingredients and mechanisms of serious games.

  • Source: The Authors; Copyright: The Delirium Experience; URL:; License: Licensed by the authors.

    Reasons to Engage in and Learning Experiences From Different Play Strategies in a Web-Based Serious Game on Delirium for Medical Students: Mixed Methods Design


    Background: Although many studies have recently been published on the value of serious games for medical education, little attention has been given to the role of dark play (choosing unacceptable actions in games). Objective: This study aimed to investigate potential differences in the characteristics of medical students who have the opportunity to choose normal or dark play in a serious game. This study also aimed to compare their reasons for choosing a play strategy and their perceptions of what they learned from their game play. Methods: We asked undergraduate medical students to play a serious game in which they had to take care of a patient with delirium (The Delirium Experience). After getting acquainted with the game, students could opt for normal or dark play. Student characteristics (age, gender, experience with caring for older or delirious patients, and number of completed clerkships) were collected, and the Delirium Attitude Scale and Learning Motivation and Engagement Questionnaire were administered. Reasons for choosing normal or dark play were evaluated with an open-ended question. Information on lessons they had learned from the game was collected using an open-ended question and self-reported knowledge on delirium. Results: This study had 160 participants (89 normal play, 71 dark play). Male students (26/160, 56.5%) chose dark play significantly more often than female students (45/160, 39.5%; P=.049). We did not find significant differences in student characteristics or measurement outcomes between play strategies. Participants’ main reason for choosing normal play was to learn how to provide care to delirious patients, and the main reason for dark play was to gain insight into what a delirious patient has to endure during delirious episodes. All participants learned what to do when taking care of a delirious patient and gained insight into how a patient experiences delirium. We found no differences in self-reported knowledge. Conclusions: When medical students have the opportunity to choose dark play in a serious game, half of them will probably choose this play strategy. Male students will more likely opt for dark play than female students. Choice of play strategy is not affected by any other student characteristic or measurement outcome. All students learned the same lessons from playing the game, irrespective of their learning strategy. Trial Registration: Not applicable

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

    Results and Guidelines From a Repeated-Measures Design Experiment Comparing Standing and Seated Full-Body Gesture-Based Immersive Virtual Reality Exergames:...


    Background: Although full-body seated exercises have been studied in a wide range of settings (ie, homes, hospitals, and daycare centers), they have rarely been converted to seated exergames. In addition, there is an increasing number of studies on immersive virtual reality (iVR) full-body gesture-based standing exergames, but the suitability and usefulness of seated exergames remain largely unexplored. Objective: This study aimed to evaluate the difference between playing a full-body gesture-based iVR standing exergame and seated exergame in terms of gameplay performance, intrinsic motivation, and motion sickness. Methods: A total of 52 participants completed the experiment. The order of the game mode (standing and sitting) was counterbalanced. Gameplay performance was evaluated by action or gesture completion time and the number of missed gestures. Exertion was measured by the average heart rate (HR) percentage (AvgHR%), increased HR%, calories burned, and the Borg 6-20 questionnaire. Intrinsic motivation was assessed with the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI), whereas motion sickness was assessed via the Motion Sickness Assessment Questionnaire (MSAQ). In addition, we measured the fear of falling using a 10-point Likert scale questionnaire. Results: Players missed more gestures in the seated exergame than in the standing exergame, but the overall miss rate was low (2.3/120, 1.9%). The analysis yielded significantly higher AvgHR%, increased HR%, calories burned, and Borg 6-20 rating of perceived exertion values for the seated exergame (all P<.001). The seated exergame was rated significantly higher on peripheral sickness (P=.02) and sopite-related sickness (MSAQ) (P=.004) than the standing exergame. The score of the subscale “value/usefulness” from IMI was reported to be higher for the seated exergame than the standing exergame. There was no significant difference between the seated exergame and standing exergame in terms of intrinsic motivation (interest/enjoyment, P=.96; perceived competence, P=.26; pressure/tension, P=.42) and the fear of falling (P=.25). Conclusions: Seated iVR full-body gesture-based exergames can be valuable complements to standing exergames. Seated exergames have the potential to lead to higher exertion, provide higher value to players, and be more applicable in small spaces compared with standing exergames. However, gestures for seated exergames need to be designed carefully to minimize motion sickness, and more time should be given to users to perform gestures in seated exergames compared with standing exergames.

  • Woman researching for high-quality serious games. Source: Image created by the authors; Copyright: The Authors; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Quality Criteria for Serious Games: Serious Part, Game Part, and Balance


    Serious games are digital games that have an additional goal beyond entertainment. Recently, many studies have explored different quality criteria for serious games, including effectiveness and attractiveness. Unfortunately, the double mission of serious games, that is, simultaneous achievement of intended effects (serious part) and entertainment (game part), is not adequately considered in these studies. This paper aims to identify essential quality criteria for serious games. The fundamental goal of our research is to identify important factors of serious games and to adapt the existing principles and requirements from game-related literature to effective and attractive serious games. In addition to the review of the relevant literature, we also include workshop results. Furthermore, we analyzed and summarized 22 state-of-the-art serious games for education and health. The selected best-practice serious games either prove their effectiveness through scientific studies or by winning game awards. For the analysis of these games, we refer to “DIN SPEC 91380 Serious Games Metadata Format.” A summarized text states quality criteria for both the serious and the game part, and especially the balance between them. We provide guidelines for high-quality serious games drawn from literature analysis and in close cooperation with domain experts.

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