A Georgia Tech College of Computing Ph.D. candidate, Andrea Grimes Parker, has shown that playing health-related video games on a mobile device can help adults learn to live more healthfully by making smart diet choices.
OrderUP! seeks to educate players about how to make healthy eating choices in situations nearly everyone encounters regularly in their lives. By casting players as virtual restaurant servers, Order UP! forces players to make healthy — and fast — menu decisions for a group of demanding, impatient customers.
“We found that, after playing OrderUP! for just three weeks, we saw people engage in behaviors and thinking consistent with the processes of change identified by the TTM,” Parker said. “In particular, we found that people learned how to make healthier choices when eating out, reassessed the healthiness of their current eating habits, began having productive conversations about healthy eating with people in their social network and, finally, actually started introducing healthier foods into their diet.”
“The most important finding from the OrderUP! project was how the game was integrated into conversations players had with other players and non-players about things that they had learned, particularly things that confronted their assumptions about healthy choices.”
The game works like this: One at a time, 10 virtual “customers” approach the counter with three possible food choices; for example, the choices could be a fried chicken thigh, a jerk chicken breast or gumbo. They’re then asked to make the healthiest choice, with only a few moments to pick before the customer gets impatient and leaves. Players start with 1,000 health points, and as they make unhealthy choices for their customers (or as the customers get tired of waiting and leave) their health points drop. The object of the game is to continue serving food as long as possible.
OrderUP! fits into a larger research profile within the College of Computing of trying to determine how the ubiquity of mobile devices can be leveraged to improve users’ health.
Future development of OrderUP! will include a longer study to measure player behavior change over an extended period of time, as well as an expanded game with more levels, more food choices and more nutritional information available to the player.