The Role of Agency in the Design and Play of Exercise Video Games
A major problem in public health is low participation in physical activity. Games incorporating physical activity, exergames, have potential to combat this issue because they are engaging. A primary quality that makes games engaging is agency, the ability to make choices. Agency poses challenges to the design and play of exergames. First, exercise can be so rigid that it is challenging to design exergames that provide agency. Second, people have a fundamental agency to choose to play an exergame or not, and how long, how often, and how vigorously to play them. It is challenging to motivate people to play and keep playing exergames to reap health benefits. This research explores these challenges through two studies. In the first study, we developed game design techniques to balance agency with the constraints of rigid exercises. We illustrated these techniques through a novel game we developed for muscle-strengthening, Brains & Brawn. Results from the study demonstrated that players experienced agency during gameplay, were incented to exercise with correct form, and showed favourable attitude toward the game. To address the second challenge, we conducted a six-week nonrandomized control trial that examined adherence behaviours. The study showed that our exergame promoted high adherence levels compared to past interventions. A core motivator that might influence adherence is the potential for social interaction. Thus, we additionally examined agency through the lens of social play by comparing adherence between a single-player and multi-player condition. Social play did not augment adherence. However, players in the multi-player condition who actively engaged in social play (Groupers) had significantly higher adherence than those who did not (Loners). Opposing situations between the multi-player (high Grouper adherence; low Loner adherence) and single-player (low Grouper adherence; high Loner adherence) conditions were a possible reason social play did not augment adherence. The two groups in the multi-player condition differed solely in program belonging, which suggests that forming social groups is important to adherence. Results from the two studies showed that agency can be provided for rigid exercises, exergames can promote high adherence, and fostering a sense of belonging might aid adherence in future studies.
URI for this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/1974/23945
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