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Entertainment combined with behavior change strategies helps kids be healthy

Creature 101 is an online video game for middle school students, which motivates youth to eat healthy and be active through integrating the best entertainment strategies with the best behavior change strategies.

A new study published in April in Simulation & Gaming by researchers of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy depicts the creation of Creature 101, which is based on the Tisch Food Center's evidence-based nutrition curriculum Choice, Control & Change. Earlier research showed that after students completed Creature 101, they drank fewer sugar-sweetened beverages and ate fewer processed snacks than control students, behaviors that can make a real difference in adolescents’ health status. The game, designed for 9-12 year olds, engages and entertains players to acquire motivation, knowledge, skills and personal agency to make healthy choices. As Dr. Dalia Majumdar, lead on this project for the Tisch Food Center described it, “We know what works to change kids’ habits, and we know what entertains kids. The video game format keeps kids engaged, and its basis in behavior theory ensures that game players will actually make healthy changes in real life.”

In Creature 101 players are charged with caring for a creature that hoards and continually begs for sugary beverages and junk food. At first the player has no choice but to give these to their creature, making their creature become lethargic and sick. As the player succeeds in the game, they take charge of their creature and soon learn that giving their creature fruits, vegetables, water, and lots of physical activity makes the creature happy and energetic. Combined with an enticing story line, suspense, and desire to win, the game provides clear messages about how our body feels when we make healthful choices.

One of the most challenging aspects of developing Creature 101 was figuring out how to get players to transfer their experience in the “game world” to their own behaviors in the “real world.” A successful entertainment technique is to have a game character that is “cool” and a little older than the players. Murphy, the teenage inventor in Creature 101 plays just this role. As the game advances, Murphy starts to analyze his own eating behaviors and make healthy changes. Murphy encourages players to do the same and provides them with the fun, “hi-tech” tracker tools he invented for himself. This builds players’ competence that they can carefully look at their own eating and physical activity patterns and successfully make healthy changes.

Blogging about their experiences after playing Creature 101, students reacted to what they learned from playing. One student learned that there are 33g of sugar in Vitamin Water, her favorite drink. This “shocked” her, because she “obviously thought it was something that was better for you.” Now, she thinks “the companies that make these products try to trick you into buying what they are selling.”

Creature 101 is free and available to anyone. Play the game at creature101.com. To learn more about Choice, Control & Change and other modules in the LiFE (Linking Food and the Environment) curriculum, visit the Tisch Food Center website.  

Published Monday, Jul. 13, 2015

Entertainment combined with behavior change strategies helps kids be healthy

A new study published in April in Simulation & Gaming by researchers of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy depicts the creation of Creature 101, which is based on the Tisch Food Center's evidence-based nutrition curriculum Choice, Control & Change. Earlier research showed that after students completed Creature 101, they drank fewer sugar-sweetened beverages and ate fewer processed snacks than control students, behaviors that can make a real difference in adolescents’ health status. The game, designed for 9-12 year olds, engages and entertains players to acquire motivation, knowledge, skills and personal agency to make healthy choices. As Dr. Dalia Majumdar, lead on this project for the Tisch Food Center described it, “We know what works to change kids’ habits, and we know what entertains kids. The video game format keeps kids engaged, and its basis in behavior theory ensures that game players will actually make healthy changes in real life.”

In Creature 101 players are charged with caring for a creature that hoards and continually begs for sugary beverages and junk food. At first the player has no choice but to give these to their creature, making their creature become lethargic and sick. As the player succeeds in the game, they take charge of their creature and soon learn that giving their creature fruits, vegetables, water, and lots of physical activity makes the creature happy and energetic. Combined with an enticing story line, suspense, and desire to win, the game provides clear messages about how our body feels when we make healthful choices.

One of the most challenging aspects of developing Creature 101 was figuring out how to get players to transfer their experience in the “game world” to their own behaviors in the “real world.” A successful entertainment technique is to have a game character that is “cool” and a little older than the players. Murphy, the teenage inventor in Creature 101 plays just this role. As the game advances, Murphy starts to analyze his own eating behaviors and make healthy changes. Murphy encourages players to do the same and provides them with the fun, “hi-tech” tracker tools he invented for himself. This builds players’ competence that they can carefully look at their own eating and physical activity patterns and successfully make healthy changes.

Blogging about their experiences after playing Creature 101, students reacted to what they learned from playing. One student learned that there are 33g of sugar in Vitamin Water, her favorite drink. This “shocked” her, because she “obviously thought it was something that was better for you.” Now, she thinks “the companies that make these products try to trick you into buying what they are selling.”

Creature 101 is free and available to anyone. Play the game at creature101.com. To learn more about Choice, Control & Change and other modules in the LiFE (Linking Food and the Environment) curriculum, visit the Tisch Food Center website.  

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