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Research Project: Childhood Obesity Prevention

Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

Title: The yin and yang of formative research in designing serious (exer-)games

Author
item Desmet, Ann - Ghent University
item Palmeira, Antonio - University Of Lisbon
item Beltran, Alicia - Children'S Nutrition Research Center (CNRC)
item Brand, Leah - Children'S Nutrition Research Center (CNRC)
item Davies, Vanessa - University Of Santa Catarina
item Thompson, Deborah - Debbe

Submitted to: The Games for Health Journal: Research, Development, and Clinical Applications
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/16/2014
Publication Date: 2/1/2015
Citation: DeSmet, A., Palmeira, A., Beltran, A., Brand, L., Davies, V.F., Thompson, D.J. 2015. The yin and yang of formative research in designing serious (exer-)games. The Games for Health Journal: Research, Development, and Clinical Applications. 4(1):63-66.

Interpretive Summary: Few researchers or game developers conduct extensive research with the target group when developing active videogames, also known as exergames. This can result in a game that is technically well done, but that does not appeal to the group it was designed for. Because videogames are expensive to develop, this is a concern, particularly as monies available to research dwindle. A roundtable discussion was held to discuss thoughts, opinions, and experiences regarding engaging the target group in videogame development and the best ways to include this type of research as part of game development. It was concluded that although engaging the end user in game development may increase the development timeline, the potential benefits of doing so outweighed the costs. Potential benefits include a game more in line with preferences of the intended users, with better operationalized theoretical constructs and broader stakeholder support, facilitating implementation and sustainability. Because the game is more likely to appeal to users, they may be less likely to drop out of studies conducted to evaluate its effectiveness. Formative, qualitative research is thus a necessary complement to quantitative measurements of game outcomes.

Technical Abstract: Despite its relevance, formative research on games may be an undervalued part of the game development process. At the 2014 International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity exergaming preconference satellite meeting, a roundtable discussion was held to assemble experiences and suggestions on enhancing the use of formative research in the development of active videogames (i.e., exergames). This article presents a summary of the concepts discussed. The discussants concluded that, although formative research may slightly expand the project timeline, the potential benefits include a game more in line with preferences of the intended users, with better operationalized theoretical constructs and broader stakeholder support, facilitating implementation and sustainability. It also improves the efficiency of other research parts because of a lower dropout rate of participants. Formative, qualitative research is thus a necessary complement to quantitative measurements of intervention outcomes, in a sort of Yin and Yang dynamic. An adapted version of formative research that casts a wider net may, however, be needed, involving both behavioral scientists and game developers, expanding the topics beyond the game's looks and soliciting the opinions of a larger group of stakeholders, such as implementers, gatekeepers, and funders.