Cynthia Carter Ching, J. Bruce German and Sara Schaefer, of University of California, Davis, and Marta Van Loan of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, teamed with Play4Change, a non-profit led by Ariel Hauter that develops serious games for social causes.
"Gamers project their identities into game play in various ways already, but we are particularly interested in what might happen if the avatar in a game is tied directly to the gamer's body and his or her actions outside the game," Ching said in a statement.
The game is scheduled to be in use by health educators in select Sacramento schools next spring for 11- to 14-year-old students for the initial development and testing.
The students will wear activity-monitor devices that measure such things as steps walked, floors climbed and calories burned. These data, along with diet logs and health and nutrition information they receive prior to play, inform the choices youth make and their rate of progress in their journey through the game, Ching said.
For example, a student who records more physical activity on a given day may find that their avatar is faster and stronger the next time they log in to the game and as a result, the student can see short-term positive rewards for their healthy actions -- such as not eating a dessert or walking after school -- long before they lose weight or change sizes, Ching said.