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Title: Using narrative game design to increase children's physical activity: Exploratory thematic analysis

item LU, AMY - Northeastern University
item GREEN, MELANIE - State University Of New York (SUNY)
item Thompson, Deborah - Debbe

Submitted to: JMIR Serious Games
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/17/2019
Publication Date: 11/21/2019
Citation: Lu, A.S., Green, M.C., Thompson, D.J. 2019. Using narrative game design to increase children's physical activity: Exploratory thematic analysis. JMIR Serious Games. 7(4):e16031.

Interpretive Summary: Physical activity is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, many children do not meet physical activity recommendations. Making active videogames (i.e., videogames that require body movement to play) may be an avenue. Adding narratives (i.e., stories) to these games may encourage enhance physical activity during gameplay. Little is known, however, about the types of narratives that may motivate children to be more physically active. We developed four animated narratives and examined 8-12 year old children’s reactions to them. Results revealed that children, regardless of weight status, race, or gender preferred the dystopian science fiction narrative over others. Strategies that were particularly appealing included characters that were virtuous and displayed extraordinary actions; interesting plots; super powers; and engaging cliffhangers. Developing narratives with these characteristics may encourage children to engage in greater physical activity during gameplay.

Technical Abstract: Physical activity is crucial for child obesity prevention and intervention. Narratives embedded in active games can increase children's physical activity. Little is known about the narrative characteristics that would motivate children to exercise. We attempted to fill the gaps in understanding regarding narrative design for active video games. In this exploratory study, four animated narratives of different genres were professionally generated. Children (N=41) between the ages of 8 and 12 years were interviewed to identify their preferences. Sessions were digitally recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using exploratory thematic analysis. Findings revealed that the children rated the dystopian science fiction story as their favorite across all weight, race, and gender groups. The physical activity-friendly narrative strategies included virtuous characters, extraordinary character actions, interesting plots, super powers, and engaging cliffhangers. Alternatively, information not related to physical activity, difficult-to-follow plot lines, passive protagonists, and repetitive narrative tropes were less appealing for physical activity. This research provides preliminary evidence that narratives have characteristics that may increase child physical activity when playing active games. Future empirical studies should verify and test these design principles.