Games for Health

Health science has been embracing gaming as a meaningful way to communicate, educate, and as a mechanism to deliver treatment [1,2]. There has been a growing interest in both serious games for health and gamified health interventions [3], especially those concerning the treatment, rehabilitation, and management of chronic disease patients [4], as these games for health have shown potential for positive impact on health-behavior change.

Some research on the effectiveness of serious gaming for health promotion revealed an overall increase in healthy lifestyle adoption across several health domains [2] and that gameplay may induce a positive emotional experience and help facilitate satisfaction and self-esteem [4]. Effect sizes found on behavior after playing a serious game were small and comparable to the effect sizes of other computer-delivered interventions. Such effects of serious games for health were highest on knowledge outcomes, while smaller than expected on self-efficacy outcomes. Overall, the effectiveness of a health game was found to improve when game development had a theoretical foundation in behavioral prediction and game theories [5].

In order to create a full picture of the effectiveness of games for health, broader intervention characteristics should perhaps be evaluated, such as user experience and perceived relevance [6]. Some of the research into the effectiveness of games for health investigates the process during gameplay [7,8] while other research focuses on process after gameplay [5,9]. I would argue that the perceived appeal of any game for health belongs in this list of “broader intervention characteristics” and that measurements should also be made BEFORE gameplay.

excerpt of my paper The Effect of a Health Game Prompt on Self-efficacy: Online Between-Subjects Experimental Survey – freely available here


  1. Sharifzadeh N, Kharrazi H, Nazari E, Tabesh H, Edalati Khodabandeh M, Heidari S, et al. Health Education Serious Games Targeting Health Care Providers, Patients, and Public Health Users: Scoping Review. JMIR Serious Games 2020 Mar 05;8(1):e13459 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]

2. Kato PM. Video Games in Health Care: Closing the Gap. Review of General Psychology 2010 Jun;14(2):113-121. [CrossRef]

3. Johnson D, Deterding S, Kuhn K, Staneva A, Stoyanov S, Hides L. Gamification for health and wellbeing: A systematic review of the literature. Internet Interv 2016 Nov;6:89-106 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]

4. Sardi L, Idri A, Fernández-Alemán JL. A systematic review of gamification in e-Health. J Biomed Inform 2017 Dec;71:31-48 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]

5. DeSmet A, Van Ryckeghem D, Compernolle S, Baranowski T, Thompson D, Crombez G, et al. A meta-analysis of serious digital games for healthy lifestyle promotion. Prev Med 2014 Dec;69:95-107 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]

6. Verschueren S, Buffel C, Vander Stichele G. Developing Theory-Driven, Evidence-Based Serious Games for Health: Framework Based on Research Community Insights. JMIR Serious Games 2019 May 02;7(2):e11565 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]

7. Brockmyer JH, Fox CM, Curtiss KA, McBroom E, Burkhart KM, Pidruzny JN. The development of the Game Engagement Questionnaire: A measure of engagement in video game-playing. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 2009 Jul;45(4):624-634. [CrossRef]

8. Burgers C, Eden A, van Engelenburg MD, Buningh S. How feedback boosts motivation and play in a brain-training game. Computers in Human Behavior 2015 Jul;48:94-103. [CrossRef]

9. Garcia Pañella O. Game design and e-health: serious games put to the test. In: Advancing Cancer Education and Healthy Living in Our Communities (Putting Visions and Innovations into Action: Selected Papers from the St. Jude Cure4Kids® Global Summit 2011). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: IOS Press; 2012.

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