Gamification: Using Video Games to Increase Fruit and Veggie Consumption

Aug 7, 2018

"Gamification" is defined as the application of typical video game elements (reward systems, point gathering, etc.) to other life activities. Dr. Michael Bordieri visits Sounds Good to discuss how video games are being used to incentivize eating fruits and vegetables to reluctant young people. 

Less than a month ago, Dr. Bordieri visited the Sounds Good studio to discuss the World Health Organization including video game addiction in their latest revision of the International Classification of Diseases. However, video games can also be used to incentivize other non-gaming areas of activity, such as physical health and nutrition. By encouraging 'mundane' activities, such as incorporating fruit and vegetables into a daily diet, with tangible reward systems, Dr. Bordieri suggests that video games can actually be used as educational tools. 

Using an extraterrestrial narrative where 'heroes' captured 'villains' on various planets with the help of fruits and vegetables as fuel, an elementary school was able to increase fruit consumption by 66% and vegetable consumption by 44% after 13 days of participation. If students consumed enough of a specific fruit or vegetable for the week's 'mission,' the villain was captured and the next planetary assignment was discussed. If the consumption levels were below a specific baseline, students weren't able to hear the narrative for the following week and were encouraged by the stories' heroes to consume more of a specific fruit/vegetable. Incentivizing healthy eating in this way enabled schools to provide instant gratification for something for which gratification is most often seen in the long run (e.g., eating healthy food now, maintaining physical and emotional health in maturity).

According to Dr. Bordieri, humans are sensitive to reward systems. There are many areas of daily activity where gratification is a slow process, especially in the form of physical health. Working out at a gym, for example, can often have more immediate negative consequences (e.g. perceived judgment from other members, soreness, etc.) than positive. By introducing gamification to these aspects of our lives, reward-sensitive humans might be more wont to participate in seemingly uninteresting, but ultimately beneficial, tasks.