Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Houston, Texas » Children's Nutrition Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #335131

Title: The narrative impact of active video games on physical activity among children: A feasibility study

item LU, AMY - Northeastern University
item BARANOWSKI, TOM - Children'S Nutrition Research Center (CNRC)
item HONG, S - Information Control Company
item BUDAY, RICHARD - Archimage, Inc
item Thompson, Deborah - Debbe
item BELTRAN, ALICIA - Children'S Nutrition Research Center (CNRC)
item DADABHOY, HAFZA - Children'S Nutrition Research Center (CNRC)
item CHEN, TZU - University Of Texas Health Science Center

Submitted to: Journal of Medical Internet Research
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/22/2016
Publication Date: 10/14/2016
Publication URL:
Citation: Lu, A.S., Baranowski, T., Hong, S.L., Buday, R., Thompson, D.J., Beltran, A., Dadabhoy, H.R., Chen, T.A. 2016. The narrative impact of active video games on physical activity among children: A feasibility study. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 18(10):e272.

Interpretive Summary: Active video games (AVGs), also called exergames, enable players to get a light to moderate workout, but the effect tends to end in a brief time. Stories, or narratives, have been proposed to be added to AVGs to promote their activity intensity and duration, but no study has tested that effect. This paper reports a pilot randomized clinical trial which added a story/narrative developed through formative research to an AVG call Swordplay Showdown in the treatment group. The results indicated that players receiving the story/narrative with the AVG, versus getting the AVG alone, were more intensely active over a somewhat longer time interval. These findings show promise for the effect of story/narrative and justify proceeding to a larger fully powered trial which also tests what variables may account for any effects obtained.

Technical Abstract: Active video games (AVGs) capable of inducing physical activity offer an innovative approach to combating childhood obesity. Unfortunately, children's AVG game play decreases quickly, underscoring the need to identify novel methods for player engagement. Narratives have been demonstrated to influence behaviors. The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that a narrative would motivate increased AVG play, though a feasibility study that investigated the motivational effect of adding a previously developed narrative cutscene to an originally nonnarrative AVG, Nintendo Wii Sports Resort: Swordplay Showdown. A total of 40 overweight and obese 8- to 11-year-olds equally divided by sex played the AVG. Half (n=20) were randomly assigned to a narrative group that watched the narrative cutscene before game play. The other half played the game without watching it. Children in the narrative group had significantly (P<.05) more steps per 10-second period (mean 3.2, SD 0.7) and overall (mean 523, SD 203) during game play compared with the nonnarrative group (10-second period: mean 2.7, SD 0.7; overall: mean 366, SD 172). The AVG with narrative induced increased physical activity. Additional research is needed to understand the mechanisms through which narrative increases physical activity during AVG game play.